My first event for the Melbourne Writers Festival this year was a talk with author Kevin Kwan, the genius behind my favourite trilogy, Crazy Rich Asians, and my best beach read of 2020 so far, Sex and Vanity. In this discussion, Kwan explained to host Beverley Wang that he wanted to do something different to Crazy Rich Asians and, with Sex and Vanity, we hear Kwan’s voice, but in a totally new and different way.
Kevin Kwan’s style of writing is so deliciously wonderful and ridiculous that I could not put Sex and Vanity down. The characters, as per usual, were exaggerated and over the top whilst the settings were lush and out-of-this-world which made for the perfect (winter) seaside read. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t love this as much as Crazy Rich Asians, but it was still very enjoyable and easy to read. When I found out that Kwan would be doing a talk at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year, I just couldn’t resist…
During this talk, Kwan explained how Sex and Vanity came about. He detailed the many times he’s visited the island of Capri, only to spend his time watching young girls go from pouty teens on holiday with their parents to falling in love for the first time, to being heartbroken when the holiday ends and they have to leave their new love behind… and this is where his protagonist, Lucie, first sprung to mind. She, and her family, were also inspired by the waspy ‘one percenters’ he met whilst studying in New York as a mature-aged student. In infiltrating these elite circles and coming to know these people, he felt he had a lot of knowledge he could use in his writing.
Finishing the book in February of this year, Kwan was hesitant to release it in these uncertain times, especially with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining so much momentum in America and across the world. But, this book actually has a lot to say about white privilege, racism, and class and that’s why Kwan decided to release it, even with a pandemic seemingly bringing the world to a halt. The cleverness behind Sex and Vanity is that it’s no ordinary beach read, He includes funny asides and footnotes, with laugh-out-loud moments but he also manages to make comments about everyday racism and internalised racism, especially through Lucie and her love/hate relationship with her extended family and her uneasy interactions with love interest, George.
I was further amazed when Kwan explained how he writes such vivid descriptions of outfits, interiors, and foods… It’s because he has a photographic memory and ‘if [he hasn’t] eaten at [a] restaurant, [he’s] not going to write about it… It has to come from a real experience for [him]’. This explanation made sense to me since his descriptions are so intense, he had me craving giant bowls of pasta and a visit to Capri the whole way through this book.
In exciting news, Sex and Vanity has been optioned as a film. YAY! And there are two more books in the series to come. It’ll be known as the ‘Cities Trilogy’, each set in one of Kwan’s favourite cities. We’ve already had New York with Sex and Vanity, to come are London and Paris. We might have to wait a while though as Kwan says so far the next two are ‘only in [his] mind’. So, here’s hoping we get the next one soon because I don’t know about you, but I love a good Kevin Kwan novel to sink my teeth into!
When I first finished Sex and Vanity I gave it 3/5 stars. Now, having listened to Kwan’s insights into this luscious story, I’m more inclined to say it’s a 4 star book. If you’re looking for the perfect escapist read, then I can recommend any of Kwan’s novels.
Melbourne Writers Festival is happening digitally all week so, no matter where you are in the world, if you’re keen to attend one of their events then here’s the link: https://mwf.com.au/.
Whatever you think about Kwan or the Melbourne Writers Festival, let me know in the comments. Enjoy!