I have just finished Tampa by Alyssa Nutting and I feel I need to weigh in on this one. Firstly this is a book that was banned by several Australian bookshops who refuse to stock or order it for customers. Okay. I have to ask why? Sure it is a book about pedophilia but it is a book that SUPPORTS the idea that pedophilia is evil and only damages people.
Despite some rather nice writing, this book paints a picture of a two dimensional monster, a sexual predator with no other aspect to her personality other than her pedophilic tendencies. We see nothing of Celeste that does not directly relate to her incessant striving to seduce teenaged boys.
Now, the really disturbing thing about Lolita is that our narrator, Humbert Humbert, is likeable. He is an intellectual giant with a great sense of humour and also a degree of self analysis. He is more than just a cartoon cutout of a serial offender. This, more than anything, is what makes Lolita great. How can we like this man despite what he has done?
Celeste on the other hand is nothing apart from this one aspect of her life. Even her obsession with her looks and weight are solely about her obsession with teens. The teens are also cardboard cutouts. The adults are even flatter. All this would make me dismiss this book if it weren't for the saving fact that the sex scenes are arousing and therefore the reader must double think their own arousal. This is the key to the book. Tampa is sexually explicit, pornographic, one-handed reading, and yet if you are reading it one handed, you will also need to question your own hard line (and I assume here that you have one) on pedophilia.
Nutting has done a brave thing here. Even thinking about writing about this subject is enough to get people angry. We live in a society where this one act is the final taboo that we can not even discuss without hysteria. For this reason it is certainly a subject I wish to tackle in my own writing.
I have, in fact, written my older woman/ teenaged boy novel but no one has been bold enough to publish it yet, because my characters are more complex than simple sexual monsters/ innocent victims. My characters find more than just damage in the relationship. They find comfort and grow from the experience. I was very tentative in writing that book and although my woman was 40, my boy was 15 and on the cusp of being legal. It would be interesting to see a reaction to my take on the subject which, I suspect, would be more vitriolic than the reaction Nutting has gotten.
Nutting is supporting the accepted line on this issue by making her pedophile a vile, evil, character. Nothing new to see here folks. But look instead to your reaction as a reader, your arousal at the pornographic sections and your reaction to being aroused by these acts. This is the thing of interest in the book and for this reason I will recommend readers to the text.
Still, Lolita is unsurpassed. Nabokov has given us complexity while Nutting has simplified things for us. Humbert still haunts me where I have shrugged off Celeste in an evening. There is still a conversation to be had about this subject but we have only just begun to face up to that.