Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” – book review

I will start by admitting that I saw the film first, which is very unusual for me. I absolutely fell in love with the film’s trailer  (I’m still in love with that trailer btw: the music, the punchlines, the film shots — perfection) – I’ve been complaining for a while about a lack of decent rom-coms and here was a film that fitted the bill perfectly. So I couldn’t resist seeing it at the cinema as soon as I could. But I also knew I wanted to read the book. So here’s the second thing I need to admit: I own the book with the film cover. It was on offer and I couldn’t resist buying it. And although the non-film cover is much prettier, I have to say I rather like the gold foil on the film version. So it has some redeeming aspect to it.

I enjoyed the tone of the book a lot: it’s a sarcastic depiction of the life of Singapore’s richest inhabitants and their quirks. It’s a book full of private planes, designer dresses and inherited jewelry. Its obsession with fashion rivals Devil Wears Prada.

The main character is the sympathetic outsider Rachel Chu, who is introduced to this world by her boyfriend, Nicholas Young. He has left her woefully unprepared for this encounter with his snobbish and extravagantly rich family and friends. Much bitchiness ensues.

Unlike the film, however, the book also portrays in detail the love life of Astrid Leong, Nicholas’s beautiful cousin, who has married beneath her social and financial status. Her husband constantly struggles to meet her family’s expectations.

Overall, I found the book much more satisfying than the film. The tone is wittier and the footnotes explain more about the Singaporean elite. One of the funniest scenes in the book has been cut in the film: I won’t say what it is, apart from the fact that it involves Nick’s mum and some fake handbags (so that you will know if you read it).  I think the book’s pace was better too.

My one problem with the book is that it’s supposed to be a rom-com, and for that, I didn’t find the relationship between Nick and Rachel quite persuasive enough. He just doesn’t seem that in love with her at first, and even at the very end, I am still not quite convinced of the strength of his feelings.

You should also be aware that though the book is satirical of the manners of the super wealthy elite, I don’t think it actually questions its existence or its spending habits. It’s a bit of a Cinderella story. So it’s definitely a book to enjoy when you’re dreaming of a Hermès handbag, not when you’re thinking that 20% of your income should probably go to charitable donations because the state of the world is atrocious. That said, it’s good fun.

 

SPOILER ALERT

I felt Charlie was definitely in love with Astrid (oh my goodness, if I read the book’s sequel, it will definitely be because I ship those two – although, how can Astrid abandon her son for so long?)

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