The iconic author of the bestselling phenomenon Crazy Rich Asians returns with a glittering tale of love and longing as a young woman finds herself torn between two worlds–the WASP establishment of her father’s family and George Zao, a man she is desperately trying to avoid falling in love with.
On her very first morning on the jewel-like island of Capri, Lucie Churchill sets eyes on George Zao and she instantly can’t stand him. She can’t stand it when he gallantly offers to trade hotel rooms with her so that she can have the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, she can’t stand that he knows more about Curzio Malaparte than she does, and she really can’t stand it when he kisses her in the darkness of the ancient ruins of a Roman villa and they are caught by her snobbish, disapproving cousin, Charlotte. “Your mother is Chinese so it’s no surprise you’d be attracted to someone like him,” Charlotte teases. Daughter of an American-born-Chinese mother and blue-blooded New York father, Lucie has always sublimated the Asian side of herself in favor of the white side, and she adamantly denies having feelings for George. But several years later, when George unexpectedly appears in East Hampton where Lucie is weekending with her new fiancé, Lucie finds herself drawn to George again. Soon, Lucy is spinning a web of deceit that involves her family, her fiancé, the co-op board of her Fifth Avenue apartment, and ultimately herself as she tries mightily to deny George entry into her world–and her heart. Moving between summer playgrounds of privilege, peppered with decadent food and extravagant fashion, Sex and Vanity is a truly modern love story, a daring homage to A Room with a View, and a brilliantly funny comedy of manners set between two cultures.
KEVIN KWAN is the author of Crazy Rich Asians, the international bestselling novel that has been translated into more than 30 languages. Its sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, was released in 2015, and Rich People Problems, the final book in the trilogy, followed in 2017. For several weeks in 2018, the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy commanded the top three positions of the New York Times bestseller list - an almost unprecedented single-author trifecta, and the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians became Hollywood's highest grossing romantic comedy in over a decade. In 2018, Kevin was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
There’s a lot of merit in showing the protagonist’s struggle with her half-white/half-Asian identity, how other people have treated her because of her more Asian features, and her rejection of Asian culture. Unfortunately, the message of embracing yourself as you are gets muddled by the flat characters and rushed execution. The protagonist is appallingly immature and behaves like a rash child (especially in the last half of the book), and most of the side characters act insufferable and annoying throughout the entire novel. I’m sure they’re kooky and exaggerated on purpose since it satirizes the vapid lifestyles of the rich, but the emotional parts of the book (that we’re supposed to take more seriously) are just as insipid. Some characters start spouting long monologues that straightforwardly tell you the message you’re supposed to take away from this, which is unrealistic, jarring, and has little emotional payoff in character development and wrapping up the story.
Okay. Okay okay okay okay OKAY. I'm sorry to say it, but...I wasn't a fan of this novel.
Retellings of any sort are difficult. I should know; I'm the bitch who read four different Pride & Prejudice retellings in the past two months. (I hate me too!) One thing I've learned from seeing how a variety of authors reinterpret past literature is that the best adaptations are those that don't just shuffle a few things around and give the source material a fresh coat of paint; they really seek to rebuild that work from scratch and keep its essential lessons while providing a new landscape.
When I was reading Sex and Vanity, I intentionally tried not to compared it to Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series. However, that's impossible to do here: This novel is written with the identical dishy tone and footnotes as Kwan's first three novels, and while the characters are different, a lot of the overarching messages and world-building were very similar.
But when I thought about it, what was much more difficult to overlook was that Sex and Vanity's arc was much like Crazy Rich Asians' narrative in many ways, except I think Rachel Chu made for a much more captivating heroine than Lucie. Some of the themes that Kwan touched on were good, but again, we've seen many of them before in other iterations of his previous work. If I was going to write a dissertation on this (Lord help us), it'd be that Crazy Rich Asians could possibly be seen as the more elevated and enlightened retelling of A Room With a View in some aspects than the novel that's supposed to be an adaptation.
That said, I definitely think this book will be a great summer beach read for many people; it's light, the characters are airily unlikable at worst, and you can hit a fun fashion designer name on every page. Perhaps some people will find its similarities to the Crazy Rich Asians series to be its greatest strength. I just think it lacked that extra little something to take it to the next level, and I'm sad I didn't like it more.
Two different aspects are colliding each other and giving me painful headache about this book. It’s not something between hate and love. It is just mostly between hmm okay, not Crazy Rich Asians kind of humorous, smart, entertaining but it is “meh” kind of read and “Oh,no!” It’s a true crime to call this book retelling of “ A room with a view!”whirling opinions take tours around my overused brain cells.
I have to admit when I start my reading I had no clue this book was retelling of E. M. Forster’s “ A room with a view” which is set in England in early 1900’s . Well, to prove my point, I have to summarize the story of the book: this is the story of English woman named Lucy Honeychurch whose life has been transformed after her visit to Italy. She is accompanied by her fussy cousin Charlotte Bartlett. As soon as they arrived to their hotel In Florence , they found out their room didn’t have a view of Arlo as they expected which made them disappointed but at the dinner, they met Mr. Emerson, a British man who loved to attract attention, offered them to switch their rooms.
After a few “Oh, that would be inappropriate!”, “ What would people think”, “No, thanks” later, they finally accepted the offer. But after Lucy and Mr. Emerson’s son George’s paths’ crossing and sharing a passionate kiss, Lucy realizes her life completely changed.
And let’s get back to our retold story. Lucie Tang Churchill, 19 years old, attends her friend’s destination wedding on Capri and she meets with charming George Zeo. After being caught in an humiliated situation, cousin Charlotte helps her whisk away. And 5 years later, two of them meet again but now Lucie is engaged with Cecil who is coming from wealthy, powerful family. But is he truly in love with her or is he attracted of her powerful social media impression?
I actually found characters, flat, boring and irritating. But the author’s approach to racism, class differences were the best parts of the book. Of course the sarcastic look to the extremely rich people’s lives and tone of exaggeration make you entertain.
But overall: as a retelling the book is disappointing. So I wanted to consider this as a stand-alone, entertaining, romantic , thought provoking novel which didn’t fit my expectations. So I wanted to stay at my Switzerland territory which means I didn’t like or hate it, I think I’d better forget it after finishing kind of three starred read.
One more time I’m thanking to NetGalley and Edelweiss for rejecting me because I was expecting something more enjoyable, vivid but unfortunately it’s a mediocre and forgettable read for me!
I bought a trilogy of Kevin Kwan books and this single-shot after having my expectations absolutely not being met with the first book Crazy Rich Asians, this book (even though I have giving it Three Stars, like I did the first book in the trilogy), met my expectations and surprised me a bit. It felt like all the ultra-rich shenanigans of CRA cast were here again, as well as the formulaic main romantic plot, but what surprised me was a sometimes serious looks at the East Asian obsession with looking at the world through a Western lens.
For lovers of this writer, this story has a smaller cast than CRA, and is just as mainstream-y (in my opinion) funny, cutting and outrageous with the added bonus that the main cast are far better fleshed out and less archetypal like they were in CRA. Enjoy! 6 out of 12.
I requested this thinking I was a total longshot at getting approved. I mean this Kevin guy might have a career in writing, know what I’m saying? If you know me you know I’m not super big on books in a series so I’ve been awaiting the day Kwan would break out of the Crazy Rich Asian world and introduce us to some new characters. I about pooped myself when I received the approval and couldn’t wait to start. Especially after coming off a book high with The Heart’s Invisible Furies I was 100% interested in something light and fun in order to cure my book hangover.
This may not have been a Rachel and Nick story, but from the cover alone I knew I was going to get to experience the opulence my real life contains zero of. You know what I’m talking about . . . .
What I did not know I was getting? A modernization of my favorite book of all time . . . .
That was like “pass the smelling salts please ‘cause momma ‘bout to pass out from excite.” You might want to take my rating with a grain of salt, because I am absolutely biased here. That being said, I read a lot of modernizations (usually P&P, but I do mix it up with Shakespeare retellings and others occasionally) and thought this one was well done and oh-so-much fun. It doesn’t come out until July (sorry), but that’s the perfect time to soak up some sun and read about rich people vacationing in Capri and the Hamptons anyway so add it to the TBR if you need to treat yo self.
ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, NetGalley!
Most of this novel was simply describing the opulence of Capri and New York life for the wealthy elite, from their fashion to their food to their cars, in excruciating detail which got old after the first two hours of listening to this novel that had very little actual plot.
I was expecting a romance similar to Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians but instead was given glimpses into Lucie's brief interactions with George which didn't convince me of their romance that lasted throughout the years of their 20s. Because the majority of this story was focused on describing the air of wealth around these characters rather than actually exploring their personalities and drives, I felt disconnected to each character, although I did like the discussions around racism and microaggressions towards Lucie who is biracial, I wish there was more of an actual story embedded in this novel rather than it focusing so heavily on how rich everyone was and what they were wearing, driving, and buying. It felt very superficial and left much to be desired of an engaging story.
I am so bitterly disappointed. Just kidding. Unfortunately, I was so nonplussed with this book that it wasn't even painful when I didn't like it.
When an author hits it big with a debut (or series in this case), they have a lot of pressure when they're writing their next book and almost always, their sophomore novel or series is subpar.
This was the case with Sex and Vanity. From the first chapter, I felt like I was reading Crazy Rich Asians and that feeling continued all the way until the last page.
If this had been Kwan's debut and if Crazy Rich Asians didn't exist, I may have rated it four or five stars but it just felt too similar. It almost seems like there may have been building pressure from the publisher, fans, or even Kwan himself to publish another book considering it had been three years since his last one (and he had been consistently publishing every two years since 2013.
Whatever the case, I didn't enjoy this book. It was pretty disappointing and unoriginal. I was really hoping for something new. Oh well.
So I guess this is a loose retelling of A ROOM WITH A VIEW and I was excited about it ever since I heard Kevin Kwan was coming out with a new book because CRAZY RICH ASIANS was so addictive and I compulsively devoured all the books in that series, and I totally expected SEX AND VANITY to be more of the same.
Lucie, the heroine, is half-Asian and half-white. When we meet her, she's still very young and attending the (interracial) wedding of a family friend with her WASP-y white family and all of the prestigious attendees in Capri. There, she meets George Zao, a Chinese boy from Hong Kong whose showy mother makes all of the reserved and snooty white ladies (and other Asian ladies) cringe. But Lucie is intrigued by George and his quiet mystery and the fact that he doesn't really seem to care what anyone thinks about him. They end up having an encounter that goes horribly wrong and then we see Lucie as a fully grown adult, now an art appraiser and engaged to be married to a prissy man of Latinx heritage named Cecil. But then George walks into her life again and all of her old feelings come flowing back...
I have a lot of mixed thoughts about this book. On the one hand, I liked Lucie a lot as a heroine. She reminded me more of Astrid than Rachel (which is fun, because Astrid has a cameo in here!); she comes from a life of incredible privilege and everyone sees her as a cool trendy girl, but she really struggles with her biracial identity-- not being "white" enough for her white relatives, being "other" to her Asian relatives. I feel like there were also more discussions about the stratification of class and wealth in the U.S. Even though the U.S. does not have nobility the way some parts of the world still do, money does accord status and prestige, and the older your money is, the more respected you are. The oldest, wealthiest families in the U.S. have the same status as the lords and ladies of Europe, and no matter how much money you make influencing or whatever, you can't buy that kind of respect.
That said, this book didn't suck me in the way the CRA series did. There were just way too many info-dumps about conspicuous consumption and I began skimming over all of the portions talking about labels, brands, etc. (The Gossip Girl books had the same problem.) There were a couple funny observations, which I noted in my updates for the book, but it took up WAY too much of the word count. It's also not really a straightforward romance/saga in the way that CRA was. There were way too few scenes between George and Lucie, which made me sad because I thought they had great chemistry. I liked Rosemary and Marian a lot, and was pleasantly surprised by the arc of Charlotte's character, but I just didn't really feel the depth of the secondary characters the way I did with the cast of the CRA books.
The thing that really vibed the strongest with me, though, was Lucie's struggle as an art adviser with promoting her own paintings. I felt that so strongly because I'm a book blogger who also self-publishes, and it almost feels like a breach of trust when I try to advertise or sell my own work to my friends because they trust my recommendations and I don't want to compare my own books with the greats, because who am I to make presumptions at the expense of that trust? This isn't really something that's talked about much within the art industry-- what it's like to be both critic and artiste-- so it was very refreshing to see it here.
Overall, I think that this book is a bit better than a lot of people are making it out to be, but it doesn't match the quality of the author's debut at all and I can see why people were disappointed.
This was a big disappointment for me, as I LOVE Crazy Rich Asians and was expecting another gem from Kevin Kwan.
It's a modern retelling of Forster's A Room With a View (NOT of any Austen novel, for Christ's sake, there ARE other classic books), a book which I've read and hated. But I totally went in with an open mind. I didn't mind when I saw the book announcement, because I thought, if anyone can make me like this awful novel, it's Kwan. But no, it still sucks.
Tragically, the writing in Sex & Vanity feels incredibly rushed and careless. Kwan wrote it in four months and it shows. The book honestly reads like fanfiction most of the time, and the characters are paper-thin. None of them feel like real people, which is crucial if we're going to care what happens to them. We're supposed to swoon for George, but he's mostly a blank canvas with chiseled abs (I mean, I still swooned, but...). Our main character Lucie has her issues - but she can also be a real cow. You can't root for her like you root for Rachel or Astrid in CRA. Sometimes you almost get a glimpse of real feeling, but mostly everything is about as subtle as a hammer blow to the head.
The trivia... the footnotes... the references... the name-drops... the fake name-drops that are actually references... what was charming and witty in CRA has turned into an absolute word-vomit all over this book. Perhaps Kwan's editor thought "here's a guy who's written 3 wildly successful novels - he doesn't need my help anymore". WRONG. Someone please rein this man's writing in. A lot of it reminded me unpleasantly of reading a fashion magazine or even a tour guide. It's like, Kevin honey, I know you have all that culture and know all that trivia, but I just want to read a story. Please tell me all those historical facts and gossip at another time, perhaps in a non-fiction book just of these charming useless facts.
Anyway. It's so insubstantial, you can read through it in a day. Which I did. I'm not saying I hated the book or anything, but I didn't like it. However I can appreciate that it's the first book I've managed to finish in months of this goddamn pandemic.
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I found this book to be very disappointing. The first part, set on Capri, was mostly fun, but even there the problems that would persist throughout showed. Lucie, around whom the story revolves, was bizarrely naive and sheltered for a rich American city girl in college in 2013 and her companion/cousin Charlotte was likewise bizarrely fusty and prim. Eventually realizing that this is a modern retelling of "A Room With A View" didn't help, because Charlotte's concerns about proper behavior and decorum and Lucie's inexperience seem incredibly out of touch for 21st century women not raised in convents. All of the other characters are unlikable, except Lucie's mother Marian who appears late in the story and Mrs Zao, who is painted as flamboyant and embarrassing but clearly just has a good heart. If you're familiar with "A Room With A View" there are no surprises in the plot. If you're familiar with typical romance novel tropes, there are no surprises in the plot. If you're a fan of the over-the-top rich people nonsense from CRA, you'll enjoy the even more over-the-top rich people nonsense here. But if you're looking for a repeat of the fun of Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series, look elsewhere.
Novels written specifically to be an "homage" to a piece of classic literature are always a risky venture for authors. You have to appeal to people who have never read the work that your book is based on, by making your story stand on its own merit and not just on its similarities to another story; and by the same token, you need to put enough of your own spin on the story so fans of the source material will still be entertained. And of course, the biggest risk comes from inviting - and almost encouraging - readers to compare your story to the much more famous book it's based on.
So Kevin Kwan set himself up for an enormous challenge by attempting to do an updated version of A Room With a View, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that he biffs it, spectacularly.
EM Foster's heroine Lucy Honeychurch has been swapped out for Lucie Churchill - the half-Chinese, half-American daughter of an old-school East Coast WASP family. The Italian setting remains the same, although Kwan substitutes Capri for Florence, possibly because Capri gives him more chances to describe various lavish vacation homes (part of the fun of this book, I'll admit, is googling the different mansions and luxury hotels Kwan is constantly name-dropping). Anyone who has read Foster's book will already know every beat this story will take, and can rest assured that Kwan will not risk any truly innovative deviations from his source material. Readers who have no familiarity with A Room With a View will probably spend most of their time wondering why an adult woman in the 21st century is so obsessed with protecting her "reputation."
It doesn't translate well, is what I'm saying. Kwan almost sells us on the idea of a quick fling at a wedding almost ruining a woman's life, because he at least does a good job of demonstrating how strictly Lucie's behavior is dictated by her upper-class conservative upbringing. But Kwan can't even be bothered to make his version of George legitimately unsuitable for Lucie - the best he can do is have George be the wrong kind of obscenely rich, oh and also his mother is tacky. The horror. (there's a bit at the end where Mrs. Zao gets a WASP makeover to appease the racist co-op board of the luxury apartment she wants to buy, and it left a seriously bad taste in my mouth)
The easiest way to illustrate how Sex and Vanity (oh my god, the LAZINESS of that title! Go girl give us nothing!) fails to live up to its literary predecessor is with the text itself.
First, we have the scene from A Room With a View when Lucy breaks up with her fiance:
"When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you're always protecting me...I won't be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can't I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you? ...you wrap yourself up in art and books and music, and would try to wrap up me. I won't be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me. That's why I break off my engagement."
And here's how Kwan updated that speech for 2019:
"And I know you think it's wrong of me to say this now, but I know you'll be miserable being married to me in the long run. You deserve someone who actually has an Instagram account with more than eight posts. You deserve someone who loves sitting in the front row at the haute couture shows in Paris, who loves wearing huge emeralds while sunbathing on your superyacht. Someone who likes tying you up in the gondola and reenacting the wrestling scene from Death in Venice. ...For a while, I thought I was that person too, but I've come to realize I'm not."
Somehow, not quite as stirring.
The closest that Kwan ever gets to telling an actual story is when he examines the complicated relationship that Lucie has with her white grandmother, who raised Lucie in an environment where she was always treated more like a pet than a person - her grandmother's "little China doll." There's a scene where two characters discuss the idea that someone can love you and still be a racist piece of shit, and it's over far too quickly so Kwan can retreat back to his comfort zone of Rich People Doing Rich People Shit.
With this book, it's clear that Crazy Rich Asians was a fluke. That book succeeded because of Rachel Chu - our Everywoman who let us into the world of the obscenely rich while still keeping the reader tethered to reality. Kwan's total disinterest in her character (she virtually disappears from the series by the time the third book rolls around) shows that he's no more complex as the spoiled rich people his books try to parody: Kwan really doesn't have anything more to provide as an author except an endless litany of designer brands, exclusive locations, and luxurious mansions. There even seems to be a tiny flicker of jealousy from the author when he describes Lucie's art career - even though she comes from an extraordinarily privileged background and has the world at her fingertips, Lucie is considered above the other characters in the book because she has a rich inner life, and real artistic talent.
And talent, unfortunately, is the one thing you can't buy.
(Also, Kwan missed a huge opportunity by doing A Room With a View when I would pay real actual money to see his take on The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. Now that could have really been something)
Absurdly wealthy, mixed-race perplexity, whipped with snarky remarks in between lines, outlook to the inner life of elite class that comprises of mostly Asian or Asian American and the novel gave a perspective to the privileged class's inner livelihood that is whisked with extravagance while finding one's own identity, heritage, and root.
Set in Capri, Lucie Tang Churchills and George Zao met and then switched to Hamptons to change scenery. The chemistry was intense but intruded by the tragedy that tore them apart for many years. Charming in tone, swings of pomposity against racism, while snobbish in hilarity, this is a version of the novel that any impressionable reader could fall in love with though, one may find lacking in depths and substances. Kwan expertly shows off the inconceivably luxuriousness, over the top expensive brands, mentioning Ivy League schools, designers, celebrities, and incomprehensible name dropping of societal statuses can be flattering for readers who appreciate rich-people lifestyle but an annoyance for some others.
Rich or Poor, they have their own set of problems in life. That point was made pretty clear here. Money can buy its way into anything but not true love, true friendship, and kindred spirit. Certainly, money can't buy all things. Undoubtedly an entertaining read and got me hooked from the beginning to the end, and I like every bit of the snobbery, which turns out to be a good laugh that cheers up the day.
QUICK TAKE: the book is split into two sections: an extravagant wedding in Capri, and an engagement in The Hamptons. I loved the Capri portion of the book and the homage to A Room with a View. However, the book kinda lost me in part two and felt a little frivolous and less fun. I didn't quite buy into the romance (both men were duds to me), but the discussions on class and racism kept me engaged and invested in the story and I recommend this one for anyone looking for escapist fun this summer.
I was initially wary when I read the synopsis, which states our protagonist Lucie Tang Churchill “has always sublimated the Asian side of herself in favor of the white side.” A story about the internalized racism of a biracial woman born to a WASP dad and Asian mom, written by a non-biracial Asian man? Why? In Crazy Rich Asians there is a line about Rachel Chu not dating Asian men that was cut from the movie, as not to perpetuate stereotypes. I wondered about this book’s intentions.
So I hesitantly started reading. I quickly got hooked and lost myself in this opulent world.
Kevin Kwan writes Lucie with empathy and sensitivity. She is complex, not a raging self-hating caricature. She was raised with Chinese culture through her mom and respects it. But it’s not easy being biracial in her rich, snooty circles. Her white cousin Charlotte constantly others her by declaring “her mother is Chinese, but her father is American” (though Marian Tang was born in Seattle). Her paternal grandmother is very patronizing, and has always referred to her as an “exquisite little china doll.” Asians casually ask what she is and dissect her bloodlines in front of her as if she is an object, a prized breed. Lucie notes how an Asian woman with flashy clothes and a strong accent is singled out for derision, though other rich people around them dress just as gaudily. Her white-passing brother moves through the world with ease. Lucie’s mother is a strong, proud woman, but she alone can’t shield her daughter from the shame of being different.
A lifetime of microaggressions is why Lucie fights her instant attraction to George Zao, whom she first meets in Capri when she is 19, during a friend’s extravagant destination wedding. George is kind, handsome, and so comfortable in his own skin as a Chinese person, and perhaps Lucie resents that most of all. But they are so drawn to each other, as if they’d been involved in a past life... They have a dalliance, part in dramatic circumstances, and cross paths again 5 years later in NY, when Lucie is engaged to a rich and pretentious white bore named Cecil. The chemistry between Lucie and George is palpable, and in desperation she resorts to some pretty rotten behavior to get George out of her life. Lucie has to learn that what she wants matters more than what she thinks the white, blue-blooded side of her family will accept.
The book is focused on Lucie’s self-discovery more than the romance, which feels rather rushed and underdeveloped as a result. I was a fan of George Zao (I mean, it’s hard not to love George when the alternative is Cecil), but he was put on a pedestal, a hunky, do-no-wrong, overly perfect wunderkind. My favorite characters ended up being the two Chinese mothers, Marian Tang and Rosemary Zao, who develop a kind of late-in-life new friendship I wish happened more often. I want them to come over and cook Chinese food for me.
Sex and Vanity is written in the same dishy tone as CRA, set in a similar ritzy world. It pays homage to A Room with a View, and familiarity with Forster’s novel will definitely enhance your reading experience. Despite some flaws, this a fun summer read and a sympathetic portrayal of a conflicted young woman.
Sex and Vanity is another zany tale of wealth, love, and excess from Kevin Kwan, the author of Crazy Rich Asians and its sequels. "When we align with the truth of who we are, all things are possible."
Lucie Churchill arrives on the gorgeous island of Capri for the wedding of her old babysitter. She can’t believe she’s been invited to what will inarguably be the wedding of the year, especially in such a beautiful location. She also can’t believe she’s being chaperoned by her older cousin Charlotte, who always reminds the half-Chinese, half-American to “think of her [white] family’s name” when doing things. When Lucie meets the handsome, intelligent George Zao, something about him makes her bristle. He seems to always be where she is, he always seems to know everything, and he’s too confident. But when an incident brings them together she suddenly can’t get him out of her mind no matter how much she tries. And when they are caught in a delicate position, she is forced to leave Capri and forget him for good. A few years later, now engaged to society’s most in-demand bachelor, Lucie runs into George again. The more that she learns about him, the more she becomes conflicted about how she feels. In the end she does everything she can to push him away, to once again sublimate the Chinese side of her heritage. What will win out, heart or heritage? Love or social appropriateness? Once again, Kwan brings his trademark sly humor along with his immense descriptive talent. This is a book that should be seen, felt, and tasted, because everything sounds so breathtaking. (Plus most of the food sounds utterly outrageous.) This book didn’t really wow me, though, as much as the Crazy Rich Asians series did. I think there was more fun in those books and the romances were more exciting. Even the constant bragging got old after awhile. But despite its shortcomings, I still enjoyed the book and I will read everything Kwan writes. I just wanted to love this one more.
In many ways Sex and Vanity was exactly the pulpy light-hearted read I was in dire need of. Kevin Kwan's engrossing and entertaining storytelling made me speed through his book and I ended up finishing it in less than a day. As retellings go, this manages to be both (fairly) faithful and rather refreshing. What kept me from wholly loving this book was Lucie, the book’s central character. She's the kind of self-absorbed, self-pitying, and milquetoast type of heroine that I have come to abhor, so much so that I actively root against them (especially since they are presented to us as likeable/good heroines who are not wholly responsible for their 'bad' actions).
Kwan’s reimagining of Forster’s A Room With A View features a contemporary setting and focuses on Lucie Churchill, a Chinese American young woman who is tired of feeling like the odd one out in her social circle. Her deceased father’s relatives are insufferably wealthy WASPs who see and treat her like an ‘oddity’ (the grandmother repeatedly refers to her as a ‘China doll’...yikes). To avoid being the subject of further gossip Lucie, now aged 19, has cultivated a good-girl image. Whereas A Room With A View opens in Florence, Sex and Vanity transports us to Capri where Lucie is staying to attend the wedding of her friend Isabel Chiu. Lucie’s chaperone is the snobbish and fussy Charlotte, her older cousin on her father’s side, who both in name and character is very faithful to her original counterpart. The wedding is decidedly over-the-top and Kwang certainly seems to have fun in envisioning the opulent foods & beverages and extravagant activities that would seem like musts to filthy rich ppl like Isabel and her cohort. As with the original, the two cousins end up in a hotel room with no view and are offered to trade for one with a view on the Tyrrhenian Sea by two other guests, George Zao and his mother (in the original it was George and his father). Lucie dislikes Gergeo on sight. She tells herself it's because he’s too handsome and too un-American, but, over the course of the wedding celebrations, she finds herself growing intrigued by him. As with the original something happens between Lucie and George that could very well lead to a ‘scandal’. This is witnessed by Charlotte who makes it her business to separate the ‘lovers’.
The latter half of the story takes place 5 years later in New York. Lucie is engaged to Cecil, who is ‘new money’ and therefore not wholly accepted by Lucie’s set. We are introduced to Lucie’s mother and her brother, who due to his gender and possibly his ‘WASP’ appearance, isn’t as scrutinized as Lucie herself is. Lucie’s future is jeopardized when George and his mother arrive in town. Lucie is horrified at the discovery that George knows her fiance and that the two will be forced to be in each other’s proximity at the various social gatherings they attend. Of course, even as Lucie tells herself she’s not interested in George and that he and his mother represent everything she does not want to be (the gal sure has a lot of internalized racism to deal with) she can't stop obsessing over him. Whereas the tone and atmosphere of Forster’s original struck me as gentle, idyllic even, Kwan’s brand of satire is far louder and sensationalistic. This suits the kind of people he’s satirizing, their obsession with status, brands, and reputation, as well as their lack of self-awareness. The rarefied world he depicts is certainly an insular one and while Lucie does experience prejudice, for the most part, the problems his characters face are very much rich people problems. Given that this novel is far lengthier than Forster’s one I hoped that George would get his time to shine, or that his romance with Lucie could be depicted more openly. But Kwang prioritizes gossipy dialogues over character development. Most of the conversations and scenes in this novel are of a humorous nature, and Kwang is certainly not afraid to poke fun at his characters (their hypocritical behaviour, their sense of entitlement, their privilege). Still, he keeps things fairly light, and there were even a few instances where the narrative veers in the realms of the ridiculous. While there is no strictly likeable character, Lucie was perhaps the most grating of the lot. Whereas I excepted Cecil to be a conceited, condescending, wannabe-aesthete (kwang and forester’s cecils pale in comparison to daniel day-lewis’ cecil), I wasn’t prepared for such as wishy-washy heroine. While I could buy into the motivations of Forester’s Lucy (her self-denial, her inability and or unwillingness to articulate her feelings towards george), I could not bring myself to believe in Kwang’s Lucie’s ‘reasonings’. She acts like a child experiencing their first crush, not someone in their mid-twenties. Her antipathy towards George and his mother also made her into an extremely unlikable character. Her actions towards the latter, which as far as I can recall were not inspired from the original, made me detest her. Not only was her ‘plan’ was completely inane but inexcusable. She struck me as bratty, self-involved, superficial, vapid. At times she acts like a complete cretin. I could not see how other people could stand her, let alone how someone like George could fall in love with her. Even if her character lowered my overall opinion of this novel, I nevertheless had a blast with Sex and Vanity. I liked how Kwang adapted certain plot elements to fit with his modern setting (instead of a book revealing that ‘scandalous’ moment, it’s a film; instead of the carriages there are golf carts). Part of me would have preferred it if Kwang had not made George and his mother ultra-rich given that in the original George and his father are certainly not well off. I also liked that in the original Lucy refuses Cecil twice, whereas here (as far as my memory serves) Lucie immediately accepts Cecil’s request. Sex and Vanity is a gleefully ‘trashy’ comedy of manners. Kwang’s droll prose and drama-driven narrative make for the perfect escapist read.
The story opens as 19 year old Lucie and her much older cousin Charlotte jet sets to a destination wedding in Capri, as her friend, a Taiwanese heiress weds a polo playing Italian count. While in Capri, she meets the handsome and mesmerizing George Zao and experiences a summer fling.
Lucie Churchill is a ‘hapa’ a term used for mixed ethnic ancestry, whose mother is Chinese from Seattle and father is white with a pedigree history that could be traced back to the Mayflower. Lucie unlike her brother looks more Chinese and has battled trying to fit in all her life. Her father has passed away and she is raised by her mother, who still tries to encourage Lucie to spend time with her father’s family.
Fast forward five years, and Charlotte has now graduated and is set to marry the most eligible bachelor in the country and a billionaire. Will a chance run-in with George Zao all these years reignite the feelings left in Capri?
Within the story, there were so many examples of micro aggression towards Lucie by both Asians non-Asians alike. For example, in her hometown of NYC you hear people commenting “F’in Asian Tourists” to Lucie as she walks down the street, or people assuming she was a delivery person, or being asked where she is from (really from), or spoken to in some ‘Asian’ language, or from her white grandmother trying to ‘fix’ her, and even from her own mother and fiancée.
Kevin Kwan’s SEX AND VANITY was such an amazing read for me that was fun, lavish, and also thought provoking that addressed issues of racism through the eyes of Lucie as she finds her footing in matters of the heart in an over the top story that was satirical, wildly romantic and gloriously decadent peek into the lives of the uber rich!
While this doesn't have the freshness and breezy comedy of Crazy Rich Asians, it's another fun romance. Lucie is sweet but lacks the character of Rachel and there's no good reason for her original antagonism to gorgeous George.
What I like about Kwan is that he sends up snobbery and excess while being fundamentally good-natured (on Auden: "I'm going to speak about the role of mindfulness in resolving global conflict") and even awful Cecil (with his weekly appointment with a wealth psychologist!) is actually a poor little rich boy.
I haven't read A Room With A View on which this is based but the story stands alone and there's no question where the resolution is going: cute and contemporary, a sunny, feel-good romance which left me with a smile on my face.
Thanks to Random House/Cornerstone for an ARC via NetGalley.
The title speaks for itself—and if you've read Kwan's famous Crazy Rich Asians series, you'll know he's a master at writing about vapid, impassioned elites. However, this one lacked the thing that I think made CRA different than your typical 'beach read,' and that's heart.
Sex and Vanity is a re-telling of E.M. Forster's 1908 classic, A Room with a View. Admittedly, I've never actually finished that story. But if you are familiar with stories set in the Edwardian era—full of social etiquette, swoon-worthy bachelors, and serendipitous happenings that can only occur on the pages of a novel—then you are probably going to find this story a bit old hat.
I think modern re-tellings of classic novels (not generally a genre I gravitate toward, and I didn't know this was a re-telling before picking it up) are difficult to pull off well. Stray too much from the source material, and what's the point? Adhere too closely to the original and the reader can sense the author's restraint. I think Kwan falls somewhere in the middle of this because when moments of originality and modern commentary did shine through, I was intrigued, only for those scenes to feel overshadowed by the plotting and ticking of certain boxes.
Lucie, our main character, is perfectly fine. But she's pretty boring. As with pretty much every character in this novel, and the novel as a whole, she lacks heart. Her actions don't feel authentic because she's a reflection of a Forster character, not her own created being. And nothing Kwan does can save her from this sad fate, as we watch her storyline play out without granting her much agency.
Overall, if you are in the mood for a quick, light read go ahead and pick this up. I can see it serving readers well on a flight somewhere or sitting poolside (but maybe that's wishful thinking, considering coronavirus and autumn quickly approaching). I'll still check out Kwan's future works, though I'm hoping he sticks to more original stories or just writes a 4th book in the Crazy Rich Asians series.
If I said I had sworn off reading Kevin Kwan, it wouldn't be true. Yes, I never doubted for a minute that all his insanely rich comrades, whose name is legion, are a sprawling cranberry. But I read, one by one, all the books in the series. And this one, rolling my eyes every now and then in paroxysms of Spanish shame, half for the author, more for myself, reading.
And I will be there when and if he writes another book. Because it's like seeds. Or like Dontsova in the nineties of the last century. Understand. that neither the mind nor the heart, but you can't stop. Because it is uplifting and gives you the opportunity to distract yourself with puppet problems from the rich-too-cry series from the abomination of current news.
The action of "Sex and Vanity", the structure of the title and the second word referring to Jane Austen, will begin in Capri, dear to the heart of the post-Soviet man Maxim Gorky's stay there. Although there will be no references to the petrels of the revolution in the novel, with the exception of a quote that I will put at the end of my retsky.
Американская Донцова (безумно богатая) - Дорогой, а правда мы душевно богаты? - Нет дорогая, богаты мы духовно, а душевно мы больны Если бы я сказала, что зарекалась читать Кевина Квана, это было бы неправдой. Да, ни на минуту не сомневалась, что все его безумно богатые товарищи, имя которым легион, развесистая клюква. Но прочла, одну за другой, все книжки серии. И эту, то и дело закатывая глаза в пароксизмах испанского стыда, наполовину за автора, больше за себя, читающую.
И еще буду, когда и если напишет очередную книжку. Потому что это как семечки. Или как Донцова в девяностых прошлого века. Понимаешь. что ни уму, ни сердцу, а остановиться не можешь. Потому что духоподъемно и дарует возможность отвлечься кукольными проблемами из серии богатые-тоже-плачут от мерзости текущих новостей.
Действие "Секса и тщеславия", структурой заглавия и вторым словом отсылающего к Джейн Остен, начнется на Капри, любезном сердцу постсоветского человека пребыванием там Максима Горького. Хотя отсылок к буревестникам революции в романе не будет, за исключением цитаты, которую я поставлю в конец своей рецки.
Наши герои, наследница многомиллиардного состояния, американка с половиной китайской крови Люси, по праву рождения creme de la creme, и наследник многомиллиардного состояния, но из нуворишей Джордж, познакомятся там на свадьбе Люсиной подруги, наследницы, угадаете с трех раз? С одного угадали? Точно, многомиллиардного состояния Изабеллой.
А дальше будет так плохо, что даже хорошо. Почитайте. Релакс с тем сортом ментальной компенсации, какое рождается по принципу ильфопетровской Эллочки Щукиной: "Рост Эллочки льстил мужчинам.Рядом с ней любой чувствовал себя гигантом" - такой релакс гарантирую.
— Ленин, — вдруг произнес Джордж, разворачиваясь к ней. — Что? — Ты не находишь странным, что памятник одному из самых известных коммунистов стоит на острове, где поют оды демонстративному потреблению?
a book that should have never been written cause it has no plot. the main character is just flat and boring. the story is not even really a story you get about 70% through and are startled at the fact that this is the BIG scandal that this whole book centers around. its just dumb. and boring. and I also hate Kevin Kwan's writing. Its like they believe their stories are juicer than they really are. it just felt fake and vapid
In 2013, 19-year-old Lucie Churchill, daughter of a blue-blooded New Yorker and a Chinese born American, first meets University of California Berkley student George Zao and his mother, Rosemary, in the hotel lobby when his mother insists she and her cousin, Charlotte Barclay, switch their room of a view of an alley to Rosemary and George’s deluxe suite of an ocean vista. Lucie then keeps running into George while all of them are in Capri for a six-day wedding extravaganza between the wealthy Isabel Chiu and the son of an Italian Count. Lucie became curious and frustrated with George. His mother is Hong Kong Chinese, whose flamboyant dress, forthright and boastful utterances, and over the top generosity clash in her society where families, education, and money matter. He is quiet and enigmatic. Suffering the angst of youth, while she is drawn to him, she does not really like him. She is confused by her constant arising thoughts of him. Ignore or kiss him? Attract or repel him? He is the antithesis of her type, yet his actions and talents repeatedly surprise her.
I loved the detail and anecdotal and real history Kwan provided of Capri. I have always been fascinated by Capri having visited it twice (alas both times as a day tripper). Yet, there is so much I have not seen, and I kept googling Capri and its sights spending hours reading and watching clips and falling more in love with Capri. I was introduced to the dark and haunting paintings of Karl Diefenbach, the unique and modernistic Casa Malaparte, the views from the neoclassical designed Villa Lysis, and the famed and humble beginnings of Da Costanza leather sandals. Kwan should be a tour promoter for this jewel of an isle. I have to return for a longer trip. Armchair travel does not suffice.
The second half of the book takes place in New York City and the Hamptons. I found that the book synopsis inside the cover did not accurately portray the book. Also, George could have been more fully developed as a character. I know this book disappointed many, but I enjoyed it. However, his wit is more prevalent in the China Rich series, which I loved.
I came to this one with high hopes for a light-hearted summer romp through the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It delivers, but unfortunately the sparkling premise is let down by flat prose. Every page is littered with adverbs (how often can your main character do something “nervously”?), the dialogue is stilted, and the story (loosely based on E.M. Forster’s A Room With A View) just didn’t have enough substance to compensate for its lack of style. That said, even though it wasn’t for me, I’m sure Sex And Vanity will still find its audience.
This was a very disappointing follow-up to my beloved Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. Sex & Vanity has a number of the same hallmarks as CRA: rich food descriptions, brand name drops, and footnotes. It isn't a strength to dip back into that well, especially with such bland. odd characters. I haven't read A Room of One's Own, so I'm not sure if the issue is with the source material or if Kwan failed to update the story for the modern day. Whatever the issue is, it is glaring. Lucie, we are told is very clever, but presents as a wealthy, mindless dilettante. Charlotte is a magazine editor in her forties, but presents as an elderly maiden aunt from a different era. George makes no sense as a leading man, because why would he be interested in Lucie - especially after her treatment of him during the cinema scene/how she recounts what happens to the other characters. The only bright spots are Marian and Mrs Zao, but as they are side characters, we only get brief smatterings of their presence. I wish I had better things to say about the book, but the material just doesn't merit it. Thank you to the publisher, via Edelweiss, for providing me with a copy for review.
If you loved Crazy Rich Asians you'll love this too OR if you obsessed over E.M. Forster novels in your teens, this is a modern retelling of A Room with a View. Kwan starts in the days heading up to a wedding on Capri, and he knows his details are for such a small part of the population so he provides footnotes (don't skip them, they can be pretty funny.) It's the richest of the rich and their romantic dramas within the fanciest spaces in the fanciest clothes, a fluffy perfect summer read.
I haven't read all of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy but just the same, there are a few characters at least from that first novel that show up in the background here. It isn't necessary to have read those first, but it's a treat for those who have.
I had a copy from the publisher from Edelweiss and it came out June 30.
Kevin Kwan's newest novel fails to live up to the excitement of his Crazy Rich Asian series, but don't let that scare you away. This is still a fun read when you want to check out something light. There is more romance than humor, but the humor is still there.
The narration on the audio version was again superbly done—Bravo to the number of characters and accents well performed. I only noticed one instance of an accidental Australian accent for Lucie. This helped make the book more entertaining.
Favorite quotes: "What is wrong with me? I'm going to Hell for thinking of Jesus's nipples in a monastery!"
"She had stood in front of George looking like she'd just farted and peed her pants."
Overall, I enjoyed this one and definitely will continue to check out whatever Kwan releases next because I have fun with them, even if they aren't ever earth-shattering. Solid 3.5 stars for me.
Kevin Kwan’s books just sweep me away into a very glittery, fashion-filled world! If you enjoyed the Crazy Rich Asians series, you’ll probably also love this novel, which is set in Capri, NY and the Hampton’s. Getting to see Kwan’s sharp eye turned toward old money WASP culture was an absolute treat!