Book Review: Sex & Vanity by Kevin Kwan

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Publish Date: June 30, 2020

When we align with the truth of who we are, all things are possible.” – Sex & Vanity

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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 a view of the Tyrrhenian Sea, she can’t stand that he knows more about Casa 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. The daughter of an American-born Chinese mother and a 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, Lucie is spinning a web of deceit that involves her family, her fiancé, the co-op board of her Fifth Avenue apartment building, and ultimately herself as she tries mightily to deny George entry into her world–and her heart.

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This book follows Kevin Kwan’s mega-smash hit trilogy of Crazy Rich Asians, and I was so excited to dive into this glitzy new world and get to know a fresh cast of glamorous characters. 

This novel is a modern retelling of A Room with a View by E. M. Forster from the early 1900s. A Room with a View is about a young British woman, Lucy Honeychurch, who travels to Italy with her pretentious cousin Charlotte. When they check into their hotel, they discover their room doesn’t have the view they expected and another hotel guest, the dashing Mr. Emerson, offers to switch rooms. This story follows that arc.

I adored the Crazy Rich Asians series and couldn’t get enough of it. While I was reading this book, I tried not to compared it to my beloved Crazy Rich Asians series. However, it’s impossible to compartmentalize them. This novel is written with Kwan’s familiar snarky, humorous tone and offers more sneak peaks into the world of the super rich. It also has funny, insightful footnotes like the Crazy Rich Asians series. It has the themes of class and racism, and the struggle with being bi-racial and straddling two cultures. I appreciate the callouts to these subjects.

I was really ready to love this book. However, the overall story and characters fell flat for me. It lacks the character development, flair, luster, tone, and themes that make the Crazy Rich Asians series so successful. Kevin Kwan tried really hard, but I think it missed the mark. I wanted this story to delve more into the family relationships, history, and dynamics but it lacked all of these things. It also missed the Asian cultural aspects that were so prevalent in the previous books and the things that all Asians identify with. 

My favorite quotes:

“You two have known each other over many lifetimes. You just don’t realize it yet.”

“I think the most impractical thing one can do is not follow your passions.”

“I think of myself as a human being, because under the sky, we are but one family, it just so happens that we look different.”

“No matter how much money you have, no matter what you’ve accomplished, these people will just find new ways to make you feel excluded.”

I am sad that I didn’t like it more because I was ready to love it. Don’t let my review deter you; it’s still an entertaining light read, perfect to pass the time on the beach or a plane. 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars 3 Stars

I bought this book on Amazon after getting declined on NetGalley and Edelweiss

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