Sex and Vanity | Book Review
As a fan of Crazy Rich Asians, I was immediately drawn to Kevin Kwan's new book, seen as I loved his debut series so much.
Sex and Vanity is set in two time periods. We first find ourselves in Capri, following Lucie Churchill's trip for a friend's wedding that's punctuated by a very heated encounter with a young man named George Zao. And then it's five years later, and Lucie's fancy New York life is again turned upside down by him. It sounds like everything I love. I'm sad to say, however, that I was thoroughly disappointed.
I actually really enjoyed the bits in Capri. The lavishness of the wedding, the description of the island, and the writing were all very entertaining. The characters felt a bit annoying but they still had room to grow. But by the end of the book, most of them hadn't.
I felt very conflicted with Lucie as a character. There were moments when she was brilliant and we could see that her pretentiousness was just a façade she'd been putting up all her life, due to her blue-blooded American family. But ultimately, I still feel like she was very stuck up and judgemental. At the same time that she loathed her American family for commenting on her Asiannes, she was also very racist towards her Chinese roots. And the constant racist comments and racial slurs from the characters (mostly in the New York part of the book) felt unwarranted and unnecessary when they weren't accompanied by real growth on anyone's part.
It felt like Kevin Kwan was writing this novel and, with 50 pages left, suddenly remembered that the main character needed to start accepting herself. It didn't feel natural like her mother's development did. Marian gets in contact with a woman who's very proud to be Chinese, and throughout the book starts going back to her roots. I wish Lucie's development had been as gradual and as well done.
Speaking of, Marian and Rosemary were my favourite part of this whole book (I also really liked Freddie, Lucie's brother). I loved seeing these two characters find such a true friendship later on in life, and Marian reconnecting with her Chinese side, which had been suppressed all these years due to her husband's family. That combined with Freddie's chill nature was a breath of fresh air amidst the superficial characters.
Another thing that didn't feel natural was the romance. I felt like even though these characters had great chemistry, we never really get to see their relationship develop, not even in Capri. We get a few bonding moments between them, but nothing that tells me why they are falling in love. George is too perfect, and although he was also one of my favourite characters, he never feels real because of this. And, in the second half of the book, the romantic interest doesn't show up nearly enough to make their connection make sense. When they meet again after five years I wanted more interactions between them to make me truly care and root for this couple, something to make me believe they were in love and not simply infatuated with each other.
Overall, this book just felt like it had a lot of great ingredients that weren't mixed very well. The character development was harmed by the constant name-dropping and descriptions. I couldn't connect with any characters, didn't care about any of them. And seen as the plot of this book is basically non-existent because it's all about the characters' relationships to each other and to themselves, that really hindered my enjoyment of the story.
What I can't seem to wrap my head around is the fact that, in Crazy Rich Asians, there's a lot of name-dropping and descriptions of grandeur, but they were better intertwined with the story. I cared about the characters because they were fleshed out enough for me to do so. So it pains me that Kevin Kwan didn't manage to achieve this again. I know I shouldn't compare this to Crazy Rich Asians, seen as it's its own different story and all. But when an author writes such a successful and well-done series about rich people's antics, I can't help but compare it to his other book about rich people's antics.
I'm just generally very sad I didn't love this as much as I expected it to and, although I enjoyed the first half very much, it's not enough to make up for everything I didn't like about this book.
Disclaimer: even though I was sent this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, I had already gotten the book for myself, so technically, it wasn't gifted.