Tampa by Alissa Nutting


Honestly, enough has been written about Tampa by Alissa Nutting without me giving it more airtime.

So why did I read it? I was intrigued by the advertising when it was first published (in Australia, print ads were nothing more than a picture of the cover with the word #discussTampa below) – publicity that’s just a Twitter hashtag? Hmmm, interesting. Intrigued, I searched #discussTampa on Twitter and there was lots of heated discussion. So yes, I didn’t want to miss out (publicist, you get your Christmas bonus this year).

The haters have had this to say –

“That is the trick Nutting is trying to pull off. The explicit sex must simultaneously titillate and trouble, seduce and shock. But the dull structure of pornography creeps into the narrative. In the afterword to Lolita, Nabokov described pornography as “the copulation of clichés” which had its rigid laws of accumulation, both of positions and participants. “In a Sade play,” Nabokov wrote, “they call the gardener in.” By the end of ‘Tampa’ the various arrangements of limbs and orifices have become fatiguing, any outrage long having dissipated. In fact, you’re quite ready to read about a bit of gardening.” The Telegraph

“Nutting’s writing is clean and controlled, its banality surely deliberate…. But Nutting offers nothing to supplement the arid vacuum of obsessive lust in which Celeste is trapped. Nutting is obviously not endorsing Celeste’s behaviour, but while disapprobation is a necessary condition for satire, it is not a sufficient one. In order to achieve satire, a writer must also be funny. Lolita and American Psycho target not only the central characters, but the societies whose empty, toxic desires they exemplify… Celeste’s infinite superficiality and terror of ageing certainly embody some key anxieties of millennial America, but the parallels stop there, and the reader is left entrapped in this barren psychic landscape, with little to watch but a teacher who masturbates on her classroom desk.” The Guardian

“The wild explicitness, too, demonstrates how Tampa is a product of the double standard it criticizes: with the genders reversed but the raunchy content preserved, Tampa would never have been published—at least not by HarperCollins.” Maggie Shipstead for New Republic

And the fans this –

“Celeste is the desirous, eternally horny, speed-loving, cynical, dismissive, greedy, shrewd role that the man usually plays in these circumstances. That’s the thing. Tampa can seem familiar on a bare-bones level, but Nutting is doing something that yields plenty of twists and turns. Moreover, we readers are pressed against the glass and forced to consider our own desires, as we are exposed to Celeste’s.” Bookslut

“But the porny language isn’t appropriated unthinkingly, or solely to titillate. This isn’t a pedophiliac “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Instead, Nutting is up to two rather sophisticated things. “Tampa” is a satire, and like the best of satires, it has a deadly seriousness at its center. The default mindset of contemporary American culture goes like this: When we think of pedophiles, we think of men, and when we think of beautiful women having sex with adolescent boys, the cultural norm might be to think: way to go, buddy! So Nutting pushes the interior life of her narrator past the point at which the reader might sympathize. …At the same time, because Nutting is so good at writing the sexual stuff in a titillating manner, the reader must reckon with the possibility that reading about this particular variety of predation is at the same time turning the reader on…  The whole approach seems calculated to cause many readers to self-implicate.” Salon

At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book – was the writing extremely clever or extremely crass? While I was pondering this very question (and also considering whether the one-dimensional characters were deliberate), I reached the mid-point of the story. Without giving spoilers, the plot just took a turn for the stupid. And then continued to be stupid.

1/5 Sorry fans, I like my social satire/commentary with fewer penises and vaginas.

18 responses

    • It’s brilliant, isn’t it? I read Lolita years (decades?!) ago and couldn’t really remember the fine detail of the style for the purposes of comparison with Tampa. Tampa is also being compared to American Psycho (also read years ago). In the end, I think there was some sloppy editing in Tampa and it really can’t be compared to either of those books, short of the fact that the main character is a nut.

  1. I am almost certain I would fall into the same camp, and I cannot stomach another stupid novel after Gone Girl and The Other Typist. I just have an itchy feeling this book would leave me feeling the same way. And that cover. Ugh.

  2. I had a morbid fascination for this one, and actually ended up liking it… although I think like is the wrong word completely. lol

    • I certainly went in with an open mind because I agree with the premise that (some of) society has a double standard when it comes to male/ female sex offenders. And at first I thought the flat, cold writing style was clever. But then editorial things started to bother me – for example, the sex scene in the car: they’re in a little sports car, one minute she’s in the front seat, the next the back seat, the next jammed between the two. One second she’s on top, he next he’s sitting up… really? I won’t get into a dissection of sex in cars but I just didn’t think what they were doing was physically possible. Details like that annoy me when I’m reading!

      Agree that we need another word other than ‘like’ – in the same way, I ‘liked’ We Need to Talk About Kevin, even though there’s nothing to ‘like’.

  3. Pingback: Bookish (and not so book bookish) Thoughts | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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