Friday, June 15, 2012

The Vanity Game

Andy Warhol is not often associated with the murkier precincts of the inner life, but author H.J. Hampson detects a dark side in his work:  "Screen prints of car crashes, suicides and riots, and, most memorably for me, the Tuna Fish Disaster – a screen print of a newspaper story about two women who died from botulism contracted from tinned tuna."

That dark view colors Hampson's take on Warhol's Jackie- and Marilyn-worshiping side. Her new novel, The Vanity Game, is a dark satire about a celebrity whose life turns bad, worse, and then worse than that, and not necessarily in ways one might expect.

The cheat is that the narrator/protagonist, a narcissistic, cocaine-snorting soccer star named Beaumont Alexander, is just funny and just self-aware enough to keep readers interested. Lines like the following redeem him from complete self-absorption and, whether or nor they mesh well with the narcissistic side of his character, they work as acid commentary:
"Everything you've been through?" Alexander tells his wifty singer girlfriend. "You know most people aren't that sympathetic to minor celebrities with coke habits."
For all his dope, fame, and money, Alexander is a child who, when things go bad, wants to retreat under a blanket at his mother's house. But childlike self-absorption (Alexander is always saying, "I can't get my head round it.") can be entertaining as well, as here, at the first of the novel's several deaths:
"She's tried to drag herself about two metres across the floor, leaving a thick trail in her wake. Blood everywhere. Cherry red, just like my Invicta sports car."
The novel turns considerably darker and more fantastic in its last third, with sadistic but calculating gangsters who prey on people's desire for fame. And that makes a line near the end of the book funny, pathetic, and horrifying at the same time:
"She said, `I know what happened to you, it happened to me too. I used to be on prime time TV."
The Vanity Game is published by Kyle MacRae and Allan Guthrie's Blasted Heath.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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