Thursday, January 21, 2021

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan


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.

2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars

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