Sex and Vanity

Dearest Lucie and Charlotte,

Sex and Vanity, Kevin Kwan, Doubleday 2020

Yes, the author of Crazy Rich Asians and the rest of them.

Is it fair to judge a book like this on more than its promise and if it’s delivered? Like a “real” novel? Well, there’s different kinds of judging of course, but what if I just mention what’s going on?

The plot is an enemies-to-lovers trope. Although the hate seems to be one-sided, and isn’t very clearly motivated. He wears speedos and looks good in them? He’s different from other men and makes her feel things? Okay, I guess?

But maybe that’s because of my next point: characterisation. It’s not great. For any of them. Every character gets one trait, and most are high in clich├ęs.

Surroundings? World-building? Yes, ma’am! Here’s what we came for: Kevin Kwan is a who’s who and what’s what on riches, royalty, relationships and rumours. It’s lavish and lucious and enormously over the top all the time. It’s empty glitter filled with names you might not even recognise, but it all sounds very glamorous and filthy rich.

Just read quickly: there’ll be too much sparkles in your eyes to notice the things lacking.

Rich People Problems

PROBLEM NO. 1

Your regular table at the fabulous restaurant on the exclusive island where you own a beach house is unavailable.

Follow up from Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend, now with even some issues that everyone that isn’t a billionaire or millionaire could relate to. Maybe.

Does one read books of these series for recognising situations from their own lives? Probably not. Bring in the details about the clothes, the planes, the houses, the spending.

Again, there’s so many characters that the genealogy in front of the book can be helpful. The author ramps up the amount of notes as well, this time using them (more often) to comment, instead of to explain. But in between all of that is a brightly coloured, very expensive (looking) story full of dramatics and diamonds. It’s silly, it’s superficial, it’s quite delicious (especially in between Year of Wonders and writing essays about The Catcher in the Rye).

Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan, Doubleday 2017

Crazy Rich Asians

Nicholas Young slumped into the nearest seat in the hotel lobby, drained from the sixteen-hour flight from Singapore, the train ride from Heathrow Airport, and trudging through the rain-soaked streets.

Everything is completely and utterly superficial and it is delicious. Sometimes you just need such a story, or at least, I do.

Yes, there are a few stories about love, loss and family in this novel, but they are covered by details about clothing, apartments, furniture, buildings, ways of travel (so many private yet), surroundings and people. And the clothes they wear. It’s like a fancy advertisement guide where all the pictures are replaced by descriptions. The huge family tree on the first pages of the book isn’t really necessary, the characters are all show models anyway.

Kwan still manages to keep up a great speed and enough soap-dramatic turns to keep the reader busy and eager. As one of the blurbs on the cover already put it “Dallas in extrema”. If you want that AND crazy detailed descriptions about rooms plastered with gold, this is your book.

Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan, Corvus 2013