Sex and Vanity begins 5 years earlier than the main story of the book. We are introduced to the protagonist, Lucie Churchill who is the daughter of an American- Chinese mom and an American white father of Churchill fame, so she is considered a blue blood. She is 19 and at a society wedding in Capri, Italy. She is being chaperoned by her cousin on her dad’s side, Charlotte, to make sure she is on her best behavior and represents the family well.
Lucie meets George Zao, who is also from a prominent family. She finds him and his mom annoying but can’t deny her growing feelings for him. They get caught in a compromising position and Lucie never sees George again till 5 years later. This time she is older and engaged to a wealthy man who is all about society and image. The story progresses as we watch Lucie fight the past she thought she had left behind.
When I saw Kevin Kwan, author of the widely popular Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, had a new book out, I immediately put myself on the wait list of my library. I was a huge fan of Book 1 of the trilogy. Unfortunately, my excitement was for naught as this book did not meet any of my expectations.
For one, I found the title grossly misleading. There was barely any sex and yes there was vanity but it was not even from the main character. I had no idea till I was done with the book that this was a retelling of A Room With A View, so my review has no comparison and is strictly based on the book alone.
If you have been a reader of the blog then you already know my thoughts on romance novels. It’s just not my thing and that is exactly what the book reads like – boy meets girl, girl finds boy annoying, boy and girl start having feelings…and you know the rest. Nothing about the story line was compelling. If you read the CRA trilogy then you know by the third book, the story had been told too many times and you had the “been there, done that” feeling. This extended into this book because it also reads as an extension of the trilogy with some characters from there making cameos here.
Like most authors these days, Kwan felt he had to include a social conscious message with Lucie’s biracial heritage. She was caught between pleasing her white WASPy family and fiance and recognizing her Chinese heritage and the way it read seemed like Lucie was trying her best to be white passing even though she knew some of the comments from her family weren’t okay. For example, when Charlotte realizes that Lucie might have feelings for George Zao, she makes this comment – “Your mother is Chinese so it’s no surprise you’d be attracted to someone like him”. I didn’t even want to bother with figuring out why Kwan would decide to go this route but it brought me to another reason I didn’t like this book, the writing was amateurish.
I suspect a lot of people will pick this one up for nostalgia sake but I don’t think it will be satisfying. To be honest, Lucie was not interesting enough and seemed juvenile. The book was campy but not in a good way and there was not enough likeable characters. Not all predictable books are bad but I don’t know if I’d even recommend this as a fluff read.