Tampa, by Alissa Nutting
Faber & Faber
Celeste Price works hard to project an image of normality: a handsome husband, a respectable teaching job, a beautiful home in suburban Tampa, Florida. But underneath she’s a sociopath, constantly scheming to satisfy a very specific sexual predilection: 14-year-old boys. Alissa Nutting’s first book, which is based on a real case, looks set to be this year’s most provocative, divisive novel. The publisher has pitched Celeste as a successor to everyone from Humbert Humbert to Patrick Bateman, but she’s very much her own fascinating, grotesque creation. It’s hard not to laugh aloud at her scornful social commentary even as we’re appalled by her manipulative, almost maternal flirtations with the boys in her class. Tampa is more than the sum of its squeamish sex scenes: it’s a powerful indictment of a society that doesn’t consider the seduction of a boy by a beautiful woman to be abuse. It’s unapologetic in its exploration of female desire, and implicating in its compulsive readability.