Wednesday, 13 March 2019

That's one word for them - Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rachel Chu is about to spend her first summer in Singapore in the company of her loving boyfriend, Nick. While there, she will attend his best friend’s wedding (which she doesn’t yet realise is the society ticket of the century) and meet his family (who, she doesn’t yet realise, are the possessors of most of Asia’s wealth). Nothing here could possibly go wrong.

So, the problem I had with this book is that it has a premise, not a story. Chinese American girl is going to find out her boyfriend is from an uber rich family. So, where’s the conflict? You’ll have to wait for the end of the book for that to be introduced. Oh, we try, with some boring meangirl antics (because Nick is a very eligible bachelor indeed), but it’s never a battle and it’s never entertaining. Something is done to Rachel. Something else is done to Rachel. We’re supposed to be on her side, I guess, she is the everygirl whose terrific fortune we wish could be ours. She and Nick were dull, two dimensional, and I didn’t find them believable to root for.

I couldn’t buy Nick’s naivete, his surprise that he might need to prepare Rachel for the extent of his family’s wealth, or the circles they move in. I couldn’t buy Rachel’s surprise, either. She’s supposed to be have brought up in a slightly hand-to-mouth fashion, her mother having cash-in-hand jobs at Chinese Restaurants and frequently moving. Are you seriously expecting me to buy that she didn’t notice Nick’s obliviousness to the stresses and strains of normal life? That he, brought up in a world of Balliol college, private chefs, and hundred thousand dollar outfits, could pass for a normal income person?

The story also follows Nick’s mother Eleanor - who has no intention of letting her son be hitched to an mainland China born nobody - and Nick’s cousin Astrid - who’s developing concerns about what her husband may be getting up to on his business trips.

I liked Astrid, very much. Eagerness to get back to her story got me through the early stages of the book, but towards the end her story feels too rapidly wrapped up. We’re told early on in the book what will happen with her husband but the way it gets there is terribly put together.

Eleanor’s story is a mixed bag. The account of her life and her set make for a far more interesting backdrop than Rachel’s hotel suites and island resorts, but her rather predictable quest to find some dirt on the potential daughter-in-law is enlivened by what she finds out.

I can see this has the bones to be really good film but on paper everything is too thin, the writing too janky, and the main characters too tepid to be really good. That said, it was very enjoyable in part because it’s so different to a lot of what I’ve read. It’s unapologetically trashy and I liked that. While I’d certainly read Kwan’s other books, it would be from the library rather than a purchase.

3.5 stars

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