The author of Crazy Rich Asians returns with the glittering tale of a young woman who finds herself torn between two men: the WASPY fiancé of her family's dreams and George Zao, the man she is desperately trying to avoid falling in love with.
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...Then you will know which Edwardian plot device Kwan has replaced with drones ... This author is savvy enough to preserve his winning formula, at least in pieces. He takes care to include an insanely lavish wedding, in this case early in the book ... But neither Lucie nor any of her friends has anything smart or funny to say about their tourism. This is a surprise and a disappointment, since Kwan’s barbed insights made the earlier books so much fun ... Perhaps the world has changed more than he has. Maybe we’re not in the mood for a bookload of meringue ...But consider this, as others have already suggested: There’s no other way you’re getting to Capri this summer. Here’s a ticket. Too bad it’s not first class.
Some of the most stirring moments of the book occur when Kwan appears to address microaggressions against Asians, particularly within one’s own family ... Kwan’s fun with Forster notwithstanding, Sex and Vanity isn’t merely a rewrite of A Room With a View; reminiscent of Kwan’s earlier novels, it showcases his talent for creating flamboyant characters and settings that anyone can enjoy: no prior knowledge of the novel’s literary inspiration is required. At the same time, it’s also a timely story that pokes not too gently at some of society’s less tractable flaws.
The plot is perhaps not the most important element for Kwan’s fans, who most love his over-the-top characters, ridiculously lavish details, and catty, fourth-wall-breaking narration, all of which are gloriously represented here; there are jewels galore, and a West Village apartment with an indoor canal and gondoliers on retainer. Lucie’s story also touches on racism, both external (and familial) and internalized, as she fights her attraction to George. The resolution adds another satisfying layer to this frothy, escapist delight.