On a recent work trip, I was reading Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, and it was heavy. There’s a lot going on in my life, and that book was too much for me to handle in a hotel room on my own, so ducked into a library to find something a bit frothy. I immediately came across Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I am absolutely excited to see the forthcoming movie (mostly because of that amazing cast and because let’s see something different), but hadn’t actually read the book, so it was a fortuitous find.
The book is set primarily in Singapore, following American Dr. Rachel Chu as she goes on a summer holiday with her Singaporean boyfriend. She doesn’t know much about his family or childhood, despite having been together for two years. Rachel struggles to understand that Nick’s family is rich. How rich? Richer than you are thinking – CRAZY RICH.
Things go as it seems they generally must in a romantic comedy book – cultural misunderstandings, jealousies, family interference, true love endangered. There are of course multiple people conspiring to keep Rachel away from Nick, assuming she is a gold digger and/or not a suitable marriage candidate. This book reminds me of Jackie Collins style books from the 80s, with detailed descriptions of couture, vacations, jewellery and how money is both meaningless and everything to the ultra-rich. It kind of made me uncomfortable, if I am being honest. I understand that Kwan is drawing a picture for the reader, and given his suggestion that it is based in part on his childhood and how much of it parallels Western based books about school selection, etc. I believe people might really live like this.
This is our Rachel. You can see why I would want to see this movie.
This is not my regular genre of book – I don’t really read comedic romance novels, so it was a bit of departure for me. I really did enjoy it for the most part. There are a lot of women characters, some better developed than others, but each with pretty clear motivations and a lot of agency, which was nice. I didn’t find the book particularly funny myself, but I am probably alone in that. I also found the book slightly overcrowded in terms of both storyline and cast of characters; I had trouble keeping track of familial relationships amongst the main and tertiary characters, but that probably mirrors the experience Rachel was having on her trip as well. I did finish it really quickly, and it certainly wasn’t stressful to read, but I am not sure I really feel compelled to complete the trilogy. Do you feel differently?