Sex and Vanity

Kevin Kwan

Sex and Vanity
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Sex and Vanity

Kevin Kwan

When Lucie Tang Churchill meets George Zao at a lavish Capri wedding, she can’t stand him - He’s a mama’s boy. A self-righteous eco-warrior. A brooding weirdo that takes himself much too seriously. And no-one should look that good in tight white Speedos.

Worried about what her Mayflower-descended, Wall Street-wealthy family might think of this Hong Kong surfer boy, Lucie returns to the safety of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. So when she meets Cecil, a suave billionaire more concerned with his Instagram account than the planet, she thinks she’s found the perfect way to forget that moonlit night…

Beneath the lobster ravioli, Valentino bikinis, mega-yachts and Park Avenue apartments, lurks the horror of the ‘informal’ dress code and the fear that someone, somewhere, is drinking a better vintage Champagne.

Gloriously decadent and wildly romantic, Sex and Vanity is a delicious satire on the grandest of scales.

Review

Kevin Kwan has done it again. Told with his signature wit and flair, his latest romantic comedy of manners pays homage to A Room with a View, Pride and Prejudice, and, strangely enough, Crazy Rich Asians.

Once again, we’re whisked away to what could only be described as the wedding of the century as Hong Kong heiress Isabel Chiu weds Italian Count Adolfo Michelangelo De Vecchi in a week-long extravaganza on the island of Capri. It is here that our heroine Lucie Churchill – only nineteen and therefore chaperoned by her cousin, Charlotte – meets beefcake George Zao. A man she finds both annoyingly self-righteous and annoyingly irresistible. After being found in a somewhat (ahem) compromising situation by the drones filming the wedding, Lucie is whisked away by her cousin – seemingly never to see George Zao again. Fast forward five years and Lucie is engaged to ‘The Most Eligible Gentleman on the Planet’: Cecil Pike. At the tender age of twenty-four, Lucie seems to have it all: a loving family (give or take a few racists), a devoted fiancé and a job she loves. What could possibly go wrong? Re-enter, stage left: George Zao.

Sex and Vanity veers wildly between delighted voyeurism and scathing satire. Kwan’s tongue is firmly in his cheek but he may also be wearing rose-coloured glasses: it’s ok to be filthy rich as long as you’re nice about it. But even amidst the frivolity and seemingly endless list of designer clothes, Kwan returns to the theme that defined Crazy Rich Asians: snobbery. Are you old money or new money? WASP money or Asian money?

In many ways, it’s the perfect quarantine read: you get to travel and witness intimacy all from the safety of your own armchair. The best kind of escapism. Capri and Manhattan come alive in meticulous detail and it’s obvious that Kwan is familiar with, and enamoured of, both places. My only complaint would be that Kwan doesn’t have the most delicate of touches, but that itself is part of the fun. The novel is deliciously soapy and extravagant.


Tristen Brudy works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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