I had the highest hopes for the latest literary release by Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan. The world he’d created in his last series ( which includes Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems) was so vibrant and colourful – decidedly unique from anything else despite its strict adherence to the typical chick lit genre rules. The series garnered him a reputation for inside knowledge about the lives of the extremely wealthy, as well as a level of familiarity with the cities he used as backdrops that wouldn’t be out of place in a travel guide book. Perhaps it’s because we had come to expect so very much from Kwan that his latest, Sex and Vanity, just couldn’t seem to deliver.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t not enjoy it. I finished it in a couple of days, and was quite invested in the love triangle between the gorgeous New York heiress, Lucie Churchill, her extravagant billionaire fiance, Cecil Pike, and the strapping and mysterious George Zao – who Lucie had a brief tryst with on the island of Capri when she was a teenager – but unlike Kwan’s previous novels, the whole thing reminded me of why I don’t usually read chick lit.
The characters were flat and prosaic, lacking the unique and identifiable voices and personalities that made his CRA characters enjoyable. The plot too, was predictable to a fault. At the most inopportune time, one could best – with great success – that the character our protagonist least wanted to see, would show up, and that in the end the entire story would be tied up in a neat little bow that could have been predicted from chapter two.
The writing and dialogue also lacked much of the humour that makes reading about the extremely wealthy – whether fictional or not – fun. What had a lot of potential to be satirical turned into a fiesta of name-dropping and cliche that wasn’t nearly what I was looking for when I picked the novel up in the first place.
Sex and Vanity also briefly touches on the internal struggles of characters who are straddled between two very different racial and cultural backgrounds, although I also feel like the topic could have been handled with more finesse. One gets the impression there are lessons to be learned from the story which would have been more successfully internalised than they can be when blatantly and abruptly vocalised by the novel’s characters – a somewhat jarring and off-putting reading experience.
That being said, The start of the novel, at least, did pique my interest ( fortunately, or I may not have made it through the second half). I was also quite invested in Lucie’s romance with George Zao, which as at least a little more convincing than whatever she had going on with Cecil for – as we’re told – years.
I was also delighted by the brief and subtle references to his previous novels which those who haven’t read the series would have missed.
I feel certain that Kwan will still produce the kind of chick lit that excited me again in the future, but that perhaps, with Sex and Vanity, he was in a rush to release something while still riding the tsunami of popularity that followed the release of the CRA film. It could have scratched the itch better if it had been refined a little more, and if the dialogue were made a little less stilted and robotic. Nevertheless, for those who usually enjoy the genre – and particularly for fans of the world of Gossip Girl – Sex and Vanity may not be as awful as I’m making it out to be.
For those, like me, who simply want more of what the CRA series got us addicted to…well, there’s Bling Empire on Netflix.