It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Stabbed in the Gut

The Vanity Game
By H. J. Hampson

Beaumont (“Monty”) Alexander is a soccer god whose sense of entitlement leads to a serious error in judgment during a celebrity-studded party hosted by American rap star Clyde D. Vine who dresses like a black Elton John.

But don’t think too badly of Beaumont. These things happen.

The Cosmos were flowing freely and the cocaine was pharmaceutical grade and his pop-star sweetie Krystal was getting drunk and Beaumont was feeling bored and horny and there was that girl just gagging for it.

So Beaumont let “his sleeky Highness” out for some air and then headed home with Krystal to the “Love Palace,” a manor house that “combines medieval practicality and 21st century flamboyance,” complete with a chandelier hung with “real” Swarovski crystals.

Beaumont hates the place, which always seems to be surrounded by fans and “paps,” but it’s a far cry from the place where he grew up, a small house that always smelled of cleaning products, oven chips, and nicotine. It embarrasses him to visit his mum there, and he always brings along a minder so the neighborhood brats don’t slash the tires of his sweet ride.

Beaumont wanted out of that life and his only two choices were football and joining the Army.
Sometimes he thinks he should have joined the army, opting for real camaraderie and not the bitchy back-stabbing of the team he leads. But then he probably would have ended up dead from an IED and not living the dream of a sports star.

If only he hadn’t gone to that party…

The Vanity Game is Hampson’s first novel, a pitch-black satire of “sleb” culture that is equal parts TMZ, Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door and Tom Bower’s Broken Dreams: Vanity, Greed, and the Souring of British Football.

Packed with sex, drugs (that’s cocaine spelling out the title on the book cover) and violence, The Vanity Game is a lethal look at how image and reality have blurred while no one was looking.A deadpan, dead-on send-up of the world reality television has wrought;The Vanity Game juxtaposes Beaumont and Krystal’s A-list life against a scheme by some Russian gangsters to score a ticket on the celebrity gravy train.

It’s a wire hanger of a plot—just sturdy and structured enough to give shape to the scenes of photo shoots and soccer training, and endless rounds of public appearances, but it is also ingenious.

We’re in Beaumont’s head for almost the entire book and his sense of self-importance and his judgmental thoughts about his fellow celebrities are hilariously clueless even as people start dying around him.

The supporting cast is equally well drawn, from Beaumont’s amoral agent (is that redundant?) to his fellow party boys on the soccer team, to a predatory hostess who literally attacks him, to his single mother who dotes on him but thinks Krystal is a “tart.”The various members of the police (“the Old Bill”) are not terribly persuasive, but the criminal component of the book is almost beside the point.

The story falters near the end as events spin out of Beaumont’s control and things get more and more outlandish, but the sharply defined characters keep us intrigued. The resolution, and Beaumont’s eventual fate, are perfectly rendered—karma is indeed a bitch—and totally deserved.

Reading The Vanity Game is a snarking pleasure, and H.J. Hampson is a woman after my own heart. One day I’d like to spend a couple of hours in her company, drinking gin and talking Warhol, boring day jobs, and masculine mayhem.

Girl in the Gutter thinks the most destructive force on earth is a well-meaning teacher in possession of a box of sticky gold stars. She likes her books like she likes her sex and you’ll have to read her reviews to see what she means. Girl in the Gutter was born on the East Coast and now lives in California. Not everyone born on the East Coast is a New Yorker; not everyone who lives in California is a blonde. Click here for Girl in the Gutter's Review Policy.

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