Re-read because I came across the clip at the very beginning on YouTube and then wanted to re-read the book and now it is an hour and a half later and this was a BIG mistake. UGH.
After having read Sex and Vanity I also thought of this book fondly, but upon re-reading I’m forced to admit it’s actually not as great as I remember. I think the parts that are tbe best are all the middling bits that aren’t plot-driven–where Kwan is sharing peeks into Singaporean culture and life, even if the life is that of the extreme 1%. I wonder too if the book is holding up worse because of the rise of inequality, which makes it just a bit harder to frivolously read about the lives of the rich and famous.
In general the exposition dialogue is pretty clunky, and Rachel in particular is a pretty roughly drawn character with some confusing motivations. Spoilers for a book that’s very old at this point, but her reactions to some of the events in the book are completely out of the realm of normalcy. Spoiler: Screaming at her mother when she discovers that she has a father in prison in China? I mean, you’re almost 30. Maybe listen to the woman who’s raised you, solo, and see what she has to say?
In total this is definitely an instance of where the movie is markedly better than the book. Constance Wu brings so much joy and life to Rachel, making her a character you want to root for. Henry Golding is very pretty to look at (so are all the characters, to be honest) and that’s really all he needs to do. There’s some subtle nuances that are made a bit more obvious but in the service of plot, so that you feel the gravitas of the moment–e.g. Astrid asking her ah ma to accompany her to the wedding when Michael refuses to. I’m not sure I understood that she was doing that to allay suspicion when reading the book the first time around, and even this time I’m not sure that’s made clear.
All in all, I think these books do get ‘better’ in their depiction of these characters and their driving forces, although I’d have to re-read them to know for sure (and I…really don’t want to). One line in particular I was hoping to re-come across in this one is Astrid revealing that she always wears the same outfit to every wedding to avoid upstaging the bride. It’s a real stroke of brilliance in terms of in-universe character building…if only there were more!