Last year, I read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan while relaxing on a sun lounger in the Ibiza sun. It had been recommended to me by a school friend but I’d never even heard of it before prepping my reads for the holiday. Kevin Kwan instantly became an author to look out for for me – so when I saw he had a new book, Sex and Vanity, coming out this month, I knew I had to preorder it and get it read as soon as possible.
I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary fiction over the last few weeks (enter Beach Read, The Lido and Last Tang Standing) so it felt right to delve straight into Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan as soon as the book hit my letterbox. We had plans over the weekend to head out of the house for the first time since lockdown started – nipping into a bookstore and into Caffe Nero for a takeaway coffee, no less- but otherwise, lots of free time to read to my heart’s content. I was told that it was a retelling of Pride and Prejudice before starting however, apparently it’s actually a retelling of A Room With A View, which, frankly, was much preferable.
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan follows Lucie Churchill (yes, she has a bank balance to match the surname!), a young half-America, half-Chinese girl who lives in the Upper East Side of New York. Privileged but grateful to be so, Lucie’s best friend, Issie, is getting married on the Italian island of Capri – a wedding like absolutely nothing you could imagine, no expense has been spared and it’s likely to be the wedding of the decade for sure. Arriving into Capri with her chaperone and cousin, Charlotte, Lucie is introduced to a young man, George Zao (and his Chinese mother, Rosemary)- she takes an instant dislike to him, particularly when he and his mother practically force their fancy penthouse with an ocean view on them. As the days pass and the wedding day gets closer, Lucie finds herself constantly thrust towards George and naturally, she’s drawn towards him – he’s drop dead gorgeous, intelligent and frankly, an absolute catch – but her WASP family, ultimately, wouldn’t approve. After a small -scandal- on the wedding day, Charlotte and Lucie leave Capri and we are thrown forward in time to the present day of 2018.
We learn that Lucie is engaged to be married to a socialite, Cecil, a frankly awful man with a vivacious personality and barbaric wardrobe. As an audience, it’s clear that they have absolutely nothing in common but he’s exactly the type of man that her family would want her to marry. Whilst vacationing in East Hampton, Lucie finds herself once again thrust towards George Zao – he and his mother have only gone and rented the house next door to theirs! As sparks fly and Lucie continues to lie both to her mother about just what happened out in Capri and to herself about her feelings for this hunky Chinese man, she must decide between marrying a man who will make her family happy and being with someone who arguably will make her happy.
Very funny, unputdownable… but lacking the ‘oomph’ ending
I must say, first of all, that I really did enjoy this book – it was brilliantly written, very funny and I really loved the characters (even Cecil!). However, the ending really let the whole thing down for me. The first part of the story, set in Capri and 2013, was absolutely fantastic – everything flowed beautifully together, the whole thing was really wonderfully intricate and the landscape of the story was right there, ready to be imagined up in my head. The second part of the story focused on the present day and the relationships that had formed since leaving Capri – and that’s where it started to flop a little bit. I wasn’t quite as interested in Cecil and his involvement in the story – mostly because I wanted to read more about George and get that happy ending everyone craves in a story like this one. The story came together in the end but I was hoping for something a little bit more dramatic and Crazy Rich Asians-esque.
I’d still recommend it if you loved Crazy Rich Asians – it’s very similar in its style of writing, with a much different setting and premise. But for me, it wasn’t quite the five star Kevin Kwan read I was hoping for!