SEX & VANITY by KEVIN KWAN

The author of the hugely fun & hugely successful “Crazy Rich Asians” has a new book out, and it makes for a happy, escapist read in these dire Covid-19 times.

Though the central characters are of Asian descent or are Asian, the action takes place in Capri in 2013 and, 5 years later, in New York & New England.

I don’t think anybody does OTT-ness better than Mr. Kwan, and he does it without being in the least bit judge-y, so we can all secretly lap up the details of sumptuous weddings and amazing frocks and fabulous food. This is guilt-free vicarious living, with just enough tongue-in-cheek commentary from the author, so that we don’t take it all too seriously.

But we are never in any doubt where Mr. Kwan’s sympathies lie. And they are not with the uber-rich, new money types like Cecil Pike, but rather the quieter, low-key, well-mannered wealthy Tang Churchill family.

Yes, there is a “clash” between old and new money in this book, but it’s not a violent or deeply philosophical/ethical clash. It’s all quite easy going and fun to observe from the sidelines.

Mr. Kwan introduces each character with their school and university pedigree, helping us place who’s who socially – though as a non-American, much of the subtle snobbery behind certain schools was lost on me.

Thus we learn that the lovely Lucie Churchill is “92nd Street Y Nursery School/Brearley/Brown, Class of 16” whereas her cousin Charlotte is “Rippowam/Miss Porter’s/Smith.”

Brown & Smith I recognised, but not the significance of the other.

This is a fun read, an easy read, and not (I posit) a book to be analysed in too much depth. It is meant to entertain us, which it does. To draw back the veil of exclusivity and show us a world of unparalleled wealth and privilege, which is always fun to observe.

There are lovely lyrical descriptions of the island of Capri, which is one of the stars of the book for me.

Mr. Kwan uses his footnotes to great effect, as he pokes gentle fun at his characters, and keep them in check. Like so:

“It’s because of my Chinese blood that I haven’t needed a facelift yet,” says one jet-set socialite.

Kwan’s footnote informs us “She’s lying, of course. She had a facelift and necklift back in 2000.”

Not to make too big a deal of it, but to be able to read a hardback version of a newly published book, during these dark locked-down days was a major cheer-er-upper.

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