Monday, 22 October 2018

#CBR10 Book 90: "Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan

Page count: 546 pages
Rating: 3 stars

#CBR10Bingo: The Book was Better? 

Spoiler Warning! This has already been reviewed a ton of times - there will be some vague spoilers, but nothing that should ruin the film or the book for anyone.

Rachel Chu is an economics professor in New York. Her boyfriend of two years, Nick Young, a history professor at the same university, invites her to go to Asia with him for the summer, to attend his best friend's wedding. Rachel has no idea that Nick's family is one of the wealthiest and most influential in Singapore and that most of his family, friends and acquaintances are going to label her a scheming gold digger and treat her as such. Aided by her old college roommate, Peik Lin, Rachel does her best to navigate the difficult social situations she finds herself thrown into, while her clueless boyfriend just enjoys being home and showing her off to everyone.

I spent most of September in New York with my best friend Lydia and her family. As the movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians didn't even have a Norwegian release date yet (still doesn't, as far as I can see), I knew one of the things I wanted to do while there, was go to the cinema to see this lavish rom com, so full of talented and attractive Asian actors. In preparation, I read the book (I always try to read the source material before I see a movie adaptation), but I found it hard going at times. It is rare that the film is better than the book, but in this case, the answer to "Was the book better?" is a resounding NO.

First of all, while the main story of the book is about Rachel and Nick, Kevin Kwan doesn't really seem to want to write a cohesive romance about these two people from vastly different backgrounds. Rachel and Nick's story seems quite incidental to him, when he instead can describe the behaviours and excesses of all sorts of people connected with or to Nick. Because the author spends so much time with other characters, that Rachel and Nick sort of get forgotten about for large parts of the book.

There are so many descriptions of extreme wealth and so many brand names flaunted (I wonder if Kwan got product placement money for any of it, can you get that in a book?), and really, pretty much all the characters, with few exceptions, are completely and utterly awful. In the book, Rachel, who is so well portrayed by Constance Wu in the film, is pretty much a blank slate and doesn't seem to have a lot of personality, nor spine. Book Nick is so used to his tremendous privilege and completely oblivious to the fact that Rachel might face a hard time from pretty much everyone, a fact pointed out to him both by his cousin Astrid and his friend Colin, the groom of the society wedding of the year. He just ignores their warnings and it takes him far too long to wake up and smell the mistreatment of the woman he claims to love. While Rachel is still way too good for him in the film, the creators have done a much better job of making movie Nick a believable love interest, and his grovelling towards the end was very well done. The biggest emotional surge I felt was all about Eleanor's gesture, however, which I was not expecting.

The filmmakers have streamlined a lot of the plot and focused it more on Rachel and Nick. They've extremely wisely bulked out the appearances of Peik Lin, Rachel's old college roommate, portrayed excellently by Awkwafina in the movie. The bitchy cousin Oliver has also been given a bigger part, while most of Nick's horrible relatives and acquaintances are wisely sidelined. His imperious mother Eleanor is given a lot more humanity in the film, possibly because Michelle Yeoh is a goddess and can do no wrong. Astrid's story, which is in turns just dull but also soap opera crazy in the book, is MUCH better handled in the movie, and I'm so glad she was given agency and independence and dealt with her own problems in the film, rather than get "rescued" by her ex-boyfriend.

The book was perfectly OK, but nothing special or memorable. I feel no need to read the next two books in the series, mainly because I suspect they will be much the same as this one. The film, on the other hand, was so good! I am all for the return of the big budget romantic comedy, and a lavish Hollywood production that also gives Asian actors a showcase, so much the better! If the movie ever gets a Norwegian release, you can be sure I will be seeing it again, and I hope they film the sequels as well. While I have no interest in reading the books, I'll happily see them on the big screen, as the filmmakers have shown they can take a fairly middling source material and turn it into gold.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover I had for the book really isn't one that there's a lot to comment on - it's a shiny, sparkly golden background with shock pink letters for the author's name and the title. It's quite clear that these books are marketed towards women, rather than men.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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