I finally got to the top of the hold list at the library for Crazy Rich Asians. With all the hype from the movie coming out this summer and the gorgeous trailers and movie posters, I knew I definitely wanted to read the book.
It’s a comedy of romance, manners, and people from somewhat mismatched backgrounds coming together. There are the obligatory parties, snubbings, and displays of wealth and power with the tension set up by the expectations of society and family. I found a good bit of it fun and the gorgeous clothes and settings a lovely change from my own currently dreary, grey, wintery surroundings.
That being said, I have to confess that I…didn’t really like the romantic interest/hero, Nicholas Young. I’m not really spoiling anything to say that the plot pivots on the fact that Nick is handsome, incredibly rich, but has made a life for himself in New York where he has distanced himself from his family wealth and glamour to present himself as a regular college professor. I mean, he’s handsome (cool) and down to earth (also good), but he’s been in a relationship with his girlfriend for two years and still has not revealed his full identity.
In the Jane Austen novels I’ve read (or heck, even in similarly wealthy/escapist shows like Downton Abbey), one of the qualities I appreciate is that generally, everyone knows The Rules. Society is fairly rigid and people know when they’re social climbing, the rules surrounding manners and expectations, and how social interactions work. I mean, Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) knows that Edward Ferrars is out of her social range. Charlotte Lucas (Pride and Prejudice) makes a very calculating decision surrounding the realities for women to marry the awful Mr. Collins. There are definitely many surprises and tensions deriving from social mores, but while the players may not be evenly matched, everyone is governed by rules that are widely understood.
That’s where Crazy Rich Asians departs from Austen and company, because one of the major plot movers is the fact that Nicholas Young asks Rachel (and let me stress this again, after two years of romance) to go on a ten-week vacation to Singapore for the wedding of Nick’s good friend without telling her much of anything about his family or wealth. In other words, a major time commitment for Rachel that implies the possibility of an even greater romantic attachment, with a huge piece of information withheld.
Basically, Nick sets the woman he purports to love up for some really severe cruelty at the hands of his some of his family and friends when Rachel inadvertently trips over all the social mores, norms, and gives various impressions that Nick’s family (predictably) interpret uncharitably. While some of this may have been unavoidable, not giving Rachel at least some basic pointers on his social group feels unconscionable to me. Oh, sure, Nick’s presented as ambivalent and somewhat troubled by his own wealth and social standing, but it didn’t code to me as “down to earth” when it came to bringing home the girlfriend. It felt immature and selfish to throw his girlfriend into a pit of some not-very-nice people and social situations that would be challenging for even the most well-versed.
Rating this book, I’d give it a 2.5 stars out of 5. The escapism and wealth-gawking part is really beautifully done. The romance, though, didn’t gel for me. It says something, though, that I’m curious enough to see some of the big conflicts resolved to be on the wait list for the sequel.