I kicked off my UK vacation with Alissa Nutting's controversial novel Tampa about a female pedophile.
Perfect vacation read, right?
Tampa first came on my radar a few months ago, when early reviews on Nutting's novel began to hit various publications. Admittedly, I was drawn to it due to the hype regarding the controversial subject matter.
Tampa is narrated by Celeste, a junior high English teacher in her mid-twenties, who fantasizes about her male students. Celeste is a cold and calculating predator, who spends much of her time concocting elaborate lies and manipulations in efforts to create and conceal her sexual conquests.
I finished this book a few weeks ago and am still not sure what to make of it. It's an uncomfortable book to read. However, it should be uncomfortable. Nutting nailed it.
The story comes on strong in the first quarter. A bit too strong and it is a bit of a turn off. It's just so over the top salacious and graphic with regard to Celeste's fantasies, that it felt like Nutting was trying to push the envelope. The subject matter is enough and Nutting could have been a lot less overt without compromising the story.
I'm not the slightest bit prudish, but I was beet red while reading Tampa on my flight to London.
I think that a lot of readers might be turned off with the first few chapters, which is a shame, because once the story really picks up the pace, it was a compelling read. It shifted from a smut book to a solid work of modern fiction.
Rare is the story that manages to grab my attention without endearing me to any of the characters. There are zero likable characters in Tampa. Nutting does a wonderful job of making the reader embrace Celeste's narrative. Celeste is obviously a very biased and unreliable narrator, but you kind of go along with her thought process and dislike the other characters that Celeste dislikes. You sort of root for her.
It's similar to Nabokov's Humbert Humbert in Lolita. In both stories the authors have managed to get the reader to push past the taboos and to go along for the ride. I never liked Celeste, but somehow the people that she loathes (coworkers, parents, her husband) come across as a little worse. Nutting did a solid job, because there is no way that any reader could actually like Celeste and this is the only way to make her come across as even a little bit likable.
This novel isn't for everyone. As squirmy as it was to read, overall, I enjoyed it and I look forward to reading other novels by Nutting. She is a talented writer.