Sex and Vanity: from the bestselling author of Crazy Rich Asians
It’s been since 2013 Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” took the world of escapist shopaholic fantasy by storm. That was so long ago that Kwan’s funniest Hong Kong arriviste, Eddie Chen, could use Astor, Trump and Vanderbilt as the names of his dogs. That book, which grew into a wildly popular trilogy and film franchise, made the Marie Antoinette-ing of the Singaporean superrich both freakish and fascinating. So much about the extravagance and snobbery of the book’s clashing Asian elites was not globally known.
Now, with “Sex and Vanity,” Kwan is back — but Asia is not. Though this book also features an international cast of characters, with principals of partly Asian heritage, its compass aims at points farther west. It begins with a very touristy idyll in Capri, then goes back home to Manhattan and the Hamptons, with one eye on Hollywood at all times. The author conveniently casts a future film version with Armie Hammer, Alexander Skarsgard and (probably) Henry Golding as eye candy.
“Sex and Vanity” is what “A Room With a View” might have been if E. M. Forster’s characters had been micron-deep, Instagram-obsessed and unable to make conversation. To understand Kwan’s novel it’s probably best that you revisit Forster’s, or at least watch the Merchant Ivory film adaptation. (Kwan would be fine with that: At one point he mentions “Elizabeth Merchant and Lord Ivory” lunching with a princess.) Then you will know which Edwardian plot device Kwan has replaced with drones.