Book review: Tampa

Tampa- Allisa Nutting
By now, you've probably noticed that I'm not one for light, fluffy fiction which is the reason you'll rarely find me write young adult or chick lit reviews. For me, I've always been more interested in books that challenge the reader's comfort levels and Tampa certainly meets this brief. Reminiscent of both Lolita and Notes on a Scandal, Nutting's debut novel follows the life of Celeste Price, a beautiful new teacher who has an unquenchable thirst for 14 year old boys. As she starts her career, she preys on one student in particular, but finds her desires lead her down a path that gets darker by the minute.

Although some people look down on it, I'm always drawn to the design of book covers and Tampa is one I find really interesting. The original edition was a pink, open buttonhole serving a rather transparent provocation. However, my edition, possibly the UK print, features a white buttonhole complete with button. This intrigued me as it's evocative of the polo shirts that commonly feature in UK school uniforms, and I wonder if that was the rationale behind the updated design.
As for the novel itself, I found Celeste a very difficult character. Not in terms of her personality- which is intentionally deluded and unlikeable- but because of the lack of any kind of realism. She is stunningly beautiful, amazing in bed, intelligent and knowing, with a perfect all-American marriage to a police officer. Although it would be very easy to say that these perfect traits are manifested only in Celeste's delusions, as is the case with Lolita's Humbert Humbert, they are frequently referred to by other characters in the novel. The ultimate effect is that Celeste, and by extension, women like her, do not exist; they are pantomime baddies found only in fiction. In reality, of course, this is not true. Some women do prey on teenagers. Wouldn't it be a lot more effective if the reader could relate to Celeste on some level, if she had some element that made her similar to all of us? This would have created a whole discussion on what turns normal women like us into sexual predators but, unfortunately, we're actually left with a two-dimensional mythical monster.

When it comes to Celeste's exploits, I found them increasingly uncomfortable to read. Of course, I assume that is Nutting's intention. We shouldn't feel happy reading graphic descriptions of her encounters with young boys. However, they almost felt deliberately shocking with a complete lack of refinement. When an author tries too hard to create controversy, it shows and unfortunately I think this is the issue here.
Ultimately, Tampa- and let's briefly mention the clever use of setting being a homophone for tamper- has a strong, promising premise. It could be a real thought-provoking novel but the lack of any subtlety or realism lets it down. 


  1. Heard lots of mixed reviews on this but I still don't think I want to read it! Lolita was enough!
    Water Painted Dreams xo

  2. So glad to see another review on this! I reviewed it a while ago, I'm still not sure what I think of it. I have to disagree though, there are real life women who are that level of stunning, intelligent, probably amazing in bed haha. So I don't think that bit is that is that unrealistic. The actual writing of her exploits does seem unrealistic, I agree there, but I guess we'll never know 'cos we're not that sort of person, thankfully haha! Some of the real shocking parts did make me feel a bit like "well what's the point, how does this add to the story?" I don't feel like the other characters were well developed at all, the boy, her husband etc. I can't make up my mind about her 'cos I've never met anyone like her! xo

  3. I read this for Sunny Sweet Pea's blogger book club and I didn't think it was that good really. To me, it seemed like the author was deliberately writing provocatively and shocking just to try and get the readers to hate the story and character, making it seem a bit 'put on' (for want of a better phrase). It was only in the second half of the book that the storyline felt a bit more real and not so contrived. Not one I'll be recommending! xx


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