16th Aug 2012
The Vanity Game by H. J. Hampson
It tells the story of Premiership footballer Beaumont Alexander, and his celebrity girlfriend, Krystal McQueen – who have risen above the ranks of his teammates to reach the stratospheres of fame otherwise attained only by the likes of Bennifer, TomKat and of course, Posh and Becks.
I began The Vanity Game expecting a deliciously vitriolic satire on celebrity culture – and in this respect I was soon disappointed.
Alexander and McQueen are certainly shallow and certainly live a life of ludicrous excess – but, unfortunately, when we first meet them it is as fairly bland characters, who are as two-dimensional behind closed doors at their home, the “Love Palace,” as they are in the stories splashed across the red tops.
This doesn’t last long, and what we don’t receive in satisfyingly snide commentary we’re soon compensated for with in a meaty plot that seems to rear its head from a fluffy nowhere.
An accident plunges the happy couple’s nauseating lifestyle into freefall, introducing a criminal underground into the Essex mansions and VIP nightclubs.
Alexander’s character develops as the story unfolds, rounding out and deepening.
Hampson’s attempts at conveying the colloquial language in which her footballer thinks isn’t entirely successful, but his growing complexity and vulnerability successfully won, and held, my interest.
Whether riding a coke-fuelled high or weeping into his hands, he drifts from monster to victim and back again. Even after she’s had her antihero commit the most heinous acts, Hampson knows how to appeal to the reader’s heartstrings, just as Alexander appeals to the women in his life.
We view the female characters in the novel through the eyes of both Alexander and the media – and what we see is all too familiar. His mother is revered, his lovers are “whores”, his enemies are “bitches”, and if a woman suffers an injustice, she becomes a victim, to be pitied and protected.
That they are all shown as slotting so neatly into so few – and such restrictive – categories is Hampson’s way of condemning the limiting and confined range of roles available to women.
Despite these occasional and welcome critical turns, The Vanity Game‘s is best approached as a lighthearted, engaging jaunt that builds into a satisfying crescendo. A recommended read for fans of lighthearted crime fiction – less so for cynics looking to indulge in some bashing of pop culture!
Published as an e-book by Blasted Heath, The Vanity Game is available now to download from Amazon, priced at £1.99.
Recommended for: Anyone looking for something to burn through on a long plane or train journey, or fans of plots with plenty of twists and turns.
Other recommended reading: If you’re clamouring for more reading at the nexus of celebrity, crime and football, try WAGs at the World Cup by Alison Kervin. Similar themes (though stripped of designer labels) can be found in Solar by Ian McEwan.