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. (Penguin Random House Canada)
Ok, let’s get this point out of the way now — I gave this book ⅘ (aka Bookclub it) stars on Goodreads, but I will not hesitate in saying that this rating is biased (as many star ratings are). I loved Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series, the movie included. I powered through all three books recently and I didn’t want them to end. So, when this book came out, I was excited. However, my excitement increased tenfold when I realized that this book took place in the same universe as Crazy Rich Asians, except in America. Some dreams do come true, folks.
Now, for a couple Crazy Rich Asians shout-outs I caught and made my heart swell as I devoured this book in a single afternoon: SPOILER ALERT
“Her heart sank, and to make things worse, from where she was sitting she had a perfect view of George two tables away taking his seat between Sophie, Isabel’s beautiful Australian friend, and some equally stunning Asian woman named Astrid.”From Chapter 13 of Sex and Vanity by Keven Kwan
“The Chiu’s own the biggest plastics manufacturer in Taiwan — I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” Olivia quipped.From Chapter 14 of Sex and Vanity by Keven Kwan
For those of you who may need a refresher, Astrid is Nick’s cousin. I loved getting this little shoutout, but not as much as the second. The Taiwan Plastic Chius are the ones Nick’s family and social circle guessed Rachel, his girlfriend, belonged to. Finally getting to meet these Chius made me laugh out loud. I’m still laughing.
Another thing I want to note is that this book is supposed to be a retelling of A Room With a View by E.M. Foster, which has a 1985 movie adaptation with Maggie Smith, Helena Bonham Carter, and Daniel Day Lewis, to name a few. Honestly, watch it. And when you do, we need to discuss the pond scene. You’ll know what I mean when you see it, trust me.
When it comes to retellings, I am a fan. You are talking to a girl who has shelves overflowing with Jane Austen retellings. In fact, I am reading one right now by Joanna Trollope. See, the madness never ends.
Alas, I digress.
I think it is really important to take retellings with a grain of salt. Instead of expecting a carbon copy of the original story, think of it as inspiration for the author. After all, who hasn’t been inspired by a classic story line — I mean, it is a classic for a reason.
So, if they don’t meet your exacting expectations, well, that’s your problem. Ya, I just said that.
As for the genre of this novel — contemporary fiction and romance aren’t my favourite. I love, love, love historial anything. The main reason being that reading, like for many of us, is an escape. The last thing I want to do is read about the world I live in. Of course, the opulence, splendor, grandeur and any other word you can think of that defines immense wealth is, sadly, not like the world I live in. It’s one of the main reasons I love reading these books. A probably-not-so-satrical portrayal of the one per cent? Sign me up!
Since COVID keeps us in our homes, it only seems unfair of me to mention Kwan’s beautiful depiction of Capri as we experience it along with Lucie, the protagonist, who is visiting the island for the first time. I went to Italy when I was 16, but I never made it to Capri. Let me tell you, after having to read chapter upon chapter of how blue the water is, I was filled with an unhealthy level of envy for fictional characters. GET ME ON A PLANE, PEOPLE. I HAVE TO GET TO CAPRI.
Honestly, readers, I just want to wear cute things, eat too much food, and walk around confidently as I cradle my inevitable food baby as the sun bronzes me. Sigh, a girl can dream.
Of course, if there is anything I could not stand in this novel, it was Lucie’s boyfriend-turned-fiance, Cecil. Good. Grief. It always drives me nuts when seemingly intelligent women get tied up with idiotic men. I know hindsight is only 20/20, but get a grip, girl. Not only is Cecil the most annoying character, but she just chooses to ignore his blatant disrespect to anything important to her, including her family. More aggravating still is how her mother and brother never say anything to her. Maybe it’s just my family, but they would have a ton to say about Cecil and his high focus on sex, vanity (oh, look, the title), money, and social status. Cecil = Barf.
I do have to thank Kwan, though, for having Cecil be such a fan of Downton Abbey. I won’t give any more away than that, but if you’ve read it, you definitely know what I mean. Thank you, Kwan.
Cecil, as I said is a complete idiot, and acts as a great foil to George *eyebrow wag*. Georgie-boy is where it is at. And it is for my love of George that made me despise Charlotte. Another person who talks down to Lucie. I forgive Lucie for her lack of backbone in this case because she is only 19 and immersed in a scandal in the making when Charlotte turns poisonous. It’s only later, five years in fact, that the continued lack of back bone really starts to aggravate me.
Alas, George deserved more page time. I really enjoyed the magnetic attraction between him and Lucie and wish there were more scenes between the two of them. I’m thankful that George and Cecil weren’t in one another’s company often. I honestly experienced secondhand embarrassment for Lucie. Gah! Damn you, Cecil. Get off the darn page!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun read and let me get back to the world of Crazy Rich Asians. I only wish I savoured it a little more. Ah, something to work on.
If you are a fan of Rom-Coms, definitely give this a read, especially if you are one of those people who owns a cabin or similar and can actually get away from their town — a town still in seudo-lockdown.
Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below and let’s talk!