Best for: People looking for a comic look at the absurdity of obscene wealth.
In a nutshell: Nick is the kind of wealthy that never talks about money. His girlfriend Rachel doesn’t know it. He brings her home to Singapore to meet his family, and things get awkward.
“All her life she’d been treated like a hothouse flower, when in fact she was a wildflower that was never allowed to bloom fully.”
(I find this metaphor — or is it simile? — ridiculous because women =/= flowers, but I also weirdly like the imagery.)
Why I chose it:
The film’s trailer was released two days ago. I decided it was finally time to suck it up and pick it up (I’d been avoiding it for years because I don’t like the use of words like ‘crazy.’).
(some minor spoilers below)
After I finished the book I went back to read other Cannonball Read reviews. I’m intrigued by how many folks thought it wasn’t that great — I think maybe we viewed it through different lenses? I went into this knowing that I would find so much of it absurd, and I think the fact that the author is clearly both interested in pointing out the absurdity of many of these people AND is aware that lots of people like absurdly fancy shit (whether than can afford it or not) made it pretty easy for me to dive into this ridiculous world for awhile.
I loved the book. I devoured it. I enjoyed that Mr. Kwan was able to write chapters from multiple perspectives. (Seriously, that takes talent, to not just create many characters, but to take their point of view and have them really be different characters.) I liked that while some of the women were horrible, they weren’t all just one-dimensional materialistic harpies. There were very rich women that were appealing, and very rich women who … super weren’t. The men were also more complicated than just absent fathers or playboys. Nick, for example, seems to be a genuinely good guy, but his actions result in some pretty serious distress for quite a few people because he lacks some self-awareness. Astrid is obviously someone who has no real comprehension of how much money she has, but she’s also, to me, extremely likable in trying to lead a life that matches what her husband is comfortable with.
One of my favorite parts are the friendships between Colin and Nick and between Rachel and Piek Lin. Colin and Araminta pick Nick and Rachel up from the airport in Singapore is so … normal. These are people we will come to learn are essentially Singapore royalty, and they want to do the things friends do: welcome their friends to town and take them out. I also like that Rachel is pretty chill for most of the trip, and then when it makes sense, just sort of loses her shit. Not in a theatric way, but in the way many people do: she completely shuts down.
At the same time, I also like how unlikable so many of characters are. Nick’s mother Eleanor and her friends are obnoxious and kind of shitty parents. They can convince themselves they’re trying to do what is best for their kids, but they don’t really KNOW their kids at all. And Eddie … I’ve not wanted to smack a character so badly as I did here. What. An. Asshole.
I’ve seen some reviews that chastise Mr. Kwan for being so ostentatious in his descriptions of things like clothing and decor, but I feel it’s necessary. This isn’t the kind of rich I’m familiar with — these are definitely not the Kardashians. These are next-level rich, and I think that’s fascinating. It’s not the only thing I want to read about in life because it’s not realistic, but then neither is the world of Game of Thrones. If the only books available were books like this, that would be a problem (I want novels about people who aren’t absurdly rich), but I think Mr. Kwan does a great job with this one. I’m interested in the characters, and I’m putting off starting the next book until tomorrow because it’s late and I know I’ll just stay up reading it.