If you’ve been with me since somewhere around 2015-ish, you’ll know I’ve reviewed two-thirds of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series. I’ve read the third, but I had intended on doing a comparison piece with another novel that covered life in Singapore, and never got around to finishing it nor posting individual reviews. Never fear, I intend to still at least do the separate reviews, but I couldn’t wait to swallow Sex & Vanity.
In Kevin Kwan’s newest entry, Sex & Vanity, Lucy Churchill is so good at trying to fit in with her family, that she doesn’t know what it means to want for herself. So when she meets someone that gives her something to want, she fumbles. When a second opportunity arises, Lucy has to figure out who she’s really been trying to fit in with all these years.
Trash summary, but I’m fresh off of this book, so y’all will have to deal.
First things first, I listened to this as an audiobook. I both don’t recommend it, and found it to be the most engaging audiobook I’ve ever listened to to date. Keep in mind, that I generally only listen to nonfiction audiobooks, so it’s not saying much. I don’t knock the voice actor, but I think – at least in the case of fiction – more than one actor should be involved in the recording. Lydia Look did a great job, but she couldn’t always keep up with the character changes, or her pitch.
I wouldn’t count Sex & Vanity as the fourth book in the Crazy Rich Asians series, but it’s very much in-universe. Astrid makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance at the wedding of Taiwanese Chu (a reference I almost missed), and Kitty Pong shows up for a few paragraphs at the end. Also, the phrase, “Crazy Rich Indians”, comes up at a point, and I’m still laughing about it.
By the time I post this review, the novel will be only a little over a week old, so I can’t post any spoilers, but I can definitely talk about my impressions. Lucy Churchill is not the most likeable protagonist, but I feel like I got to grow with her a bit. She disappointed me at a point, but cooler heads prevailed. Charlotte Berkeley was an annoying older cousin, but the voice actor in the audiobook had me reading her as part-Asian, so that was a fun bit of confusion. I’m not sure how Freddy Churchill is not fat for how much he was eating throughout the novel, and Cecil Pike is the worst mashup of a European-educated Texan with money. And God bless Marianne Tang Churchill, Rosemary and George Zao, and that Auden guy for being palate-cleansers for this wild cast of characters.
I feel like Sex & Vanity really is for people who are already used to Kevin Kwan’s style of pushing social commentary between paragraphs upon paragraphs of fashion and rich people stuff. I loved that some of the major themes were internal racism and elitism, which is not new for Kwan, but I think it came out better in this novel than the previous ones.
I’m of the understanding that there might have been some controversy with this book, or at least some hesitance with the summary, but I feel like it’s really up to the reader to decide if the book is one way or the other. Me, personally? I feel like Sex & Vanity is a great addition to Kwan’s works, though I still hold out hope that he’ll write a book based in mainland China for once.
If Kitty Pong can find love for the fourth time, I can hope for Kwan to go full C-drama.
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