Booktopia’s Controversy Corner – Tampa by Alissa Nutting

by |August 9, 2013

Alissa Nutting’s Tampa has been one of the most controversial books of 2013. An erotic tale of a hebephilic, sociopathic sexual predator isn’t for everyone.

Some Booktopia Blog regulars take a look and share their thoughts.

Haylee Nash

“Tampa is an enjoyable story when read as just that – a story. Celeste is a character that, despite her obvious moral turpitude, the reader barracks for, as we are brought into her world of falsities, compulsions and addictions. At no point does Celeste experience guilt or hesitance, and while the reader knows her desires are destructive and her actions reprehensible, the forbidden nature of her dalliances and the explicitness of Nutting’s descriptions result in a rather erotic text. In this way, Tampa is similar to its inspirational text, Nabokov’s Lolita.

In both books, rather than making the narrator/hero a figure of disgust, the authors create clever, darkly funny and championable characters and thus the sensuality of the texts arouses rather than repels the reader. That the reader may feel guilty for being turned on, and the uneasiness they are left with after reading, are far more subtle ways of making readers consider the serious nature of the book’s subject matter, and one which suffers from the storm of scandal that Nutting’s publicity team, and the Australian cover art, are working hard to produce.

Quite apart from the subject matter, Nutting has a deliciously dark sense of humour and her searing wit make turning the pages a joy. The twists and turns of the plot make this a compelling read, and as a romance reader who has read plenty a smutty passage, I congratulate Nutting on her skill for erotic writing. I’ll leave the moral commentary to other reviewers, it was not my primary focus while reading and not a debate I find particularly interesting, nor one that benefits the appreciation of this book.”

John Purcell

“The comparison made by the publisher on the proof copy of Tampa to Lolita was thoughtless. Anyone who has read that book was immediately assured in the first pages of Tampa that the person responsible either hadn’t read Lolita or had failed to understand it.

Tampa is not literature in the way Lolita is literature. Tampa is just a book. A way to kill a weekend or a couple of nights. Shocking in the way a report on TV about child abuse is shocking and just as quickly forgotten.

I believe good books are about us and bad books are about them. When Rodya raises his arm to bring the axe down on the moneylender’s head in Crime and Punishment, it is my arm being raised. When Humboldt takes Lolita to the hotel, I am taking Lolita to the hotel. No matter how foreign the subject great authors drag us into the middle of the action and force us to feel.

Tampa is about a woman who likes little boys. She has her reasons. She is methodical in her approach. The same book with the gender roles reversed would not have found a publisher.”

Andrew Cattanach

“I’ve grown up in a world where Kyle Sandilands is one of Australia’s favourite entertainers. Not much shocks me anymore.

Yes, Tampa isn’t vanilla, but it’s not real. Once you divorce yourself from the notion that this is a book designed to shed light on the dark corners of society, and embrace the fact that it is a black, black, black absurdest comedy, then you’ll find the going much easier.

Quite clearly, it’s not the book for everyone, and the comparison made to Lolita, outside of its erotic overtones, is clumsy at best. Tampa is a book exploring subject matter that in today’s literary world is far from the most abrasive out there, by one of the finest debut writers I have read this year.

I’ll be honest. At no point did I read even the most provocative of passages and feel troubled because the world Nutting has created is so far from reality. It allows one to isolate the voice as a narrator, a carrier of concepts and treacherous thoughts, rather than see her as a character, as a human entity. Yes, there are horrors going on in our world, but our world is real. The world Nutting creates, the people that populate it, the colours and voices are unlike any other. It’s life, but not as we know it.

To be challenged, or not to be, that is the question you must ask yourself if you’re wondering whether or not to read Tampa. And I challenged myself, and I’m glad I did.”

Michael Marlow

“From the first page Tampa draws the reader into its intriguing if somewhat uncomfortable embrace with an ease not usually seen in a debut novel. Given the pedigree of the author this is far from surprising. Alissa Nutting is an assistant professor of creative writing at John Carroll University, and her obvious natural ability and surprisingly refined nuance are clearly evident on every page.

If you are after a light and pleasant read or an escape from everyday life, I would not recommend Tampa. It is not a novel written to whisk you off to far flung places, nor is it written to take you to a place you necessarily want to go. It is a novel that explores the darker side of desire, the kind that nestles itself in the twisted, damaged mind of a young, beautiful paedophile named Celeste Price.

This novel may not challenge your pre-conceptions or ideals, but it will challenge what you consider to be brilliant writing. Much in the tradition of Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho or Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club there is a sense that the lead characters are not just textual shadows of humanity. They are not created simply to tell a story; rather they embody something larger and more disturbing that hovers just out of sight.”


by Alissa Nutting

Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She is attractive. She drives a red Corvette. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed and devoted to her. But Celeste has a secret. She has a singular sexual obsession – fourteen-year-old boys. It is a craving she pursues with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought. Within weeks of her first term at a new school, Celeste has lured the charmingly modest Jack Patrick into her web – car rides after dark, rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works the late shift, and body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods. It is bliss.

Celeste must constantly confront the forces threatening their affair – the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind. But the insatiable Celeste is remorseless. She deceives everyone, is close to no one and cares little for anything but her pleasure.

With crackling, stampeding, rampantly sexualized prose, Tampa is a grand, satirical, serio-comic examination of desire and a scorching literary debut.

About the Author
Alissa Nutting is an assistant professor of creative writing at John Carroll University. She is the author of the award-winning collection of stories, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Oprah, Tin House, Fence and Bomb, among others. This is her first novel.

Click here to buy Tampa From Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Have you read Tampa yet?
If you have, leave your thoughts below.

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

Follow Andrew: Twitter


  • greenspace01

    August 11, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I haven’t read Tampa yet, and after reading all four reviews, I’d probably rather re-read Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, a brilliant YA novel that covers the same subject, but from the boy’s point of view.

    funny, I’d seen the title Tampa floating around, and assumed it was about the boat. now I guess it refers to the Florida city.

    • Irene Green

      September 14, 2013 at 1:36 am

      I meet Allison Nutting at the Boston Writer’s Conference 2013. She was part of a group of books-people giving a chat in one of the many conference rooms. She was pregnant at the time, her eyes were vibrant, and her comments were a vision of freedom and future possibilities. She was talking about breaking the mold and fly. I hear many other writers and books-people, but she was the only one that inspired me as a aspiring writer. I bought “unclean Jobs for Women and Girls”, her collection of short stories. I had so much fun reading about all these “bad girls” that coun’t wait for her novel to come out. Finally, I got “Tampa”, and there It was, Celeste, the very bad girl that I was waiting for. Even thought, some critics may not like the nasty adventures of Celeste Price to be out there, for anyone to read; Celeste is a character that exists in real life, just as much as other bad people who do things that we don’t like. So if you prefer to ignor it, it is up to you. But if you want a good read, go ahead and read it, you will enjoy it inmensaly, and then judge Celeste any way you want.

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