Kevin Kwan’s Escapist Summer Romp
The author of the bestselling Crazy Rich Asians trilogy is back with an all new standalone novel. Follow Lucie to Capri, NYC, and East Hampton, where she crosses paths with the enigmatic George Zao.
Sex & Vanity is an homage to A Room with a View. What did you want to capture or convey from that classic?
I strove to capture the delirious, frustrating, magical experience of first love, the intoxicating atmosphere of Italy in the summertime, and the comedy of manners that plays out within a privileged set of people in often absurd (but hopefully very entertaining) ways. All of which is of course complicated by contemporary notions of racial identity, gender, nationality, social status and technology.
Lucie, the protagonist, struggles with some aspects of her identity and place in the world – what did you want to explore most about her relationship to her family?
It was important to me that we understand the intensity of Lucie’s internal struggle and the impressive strength she has to muster in order to find her own voice, integrity, desires and identity against the noisy, confusing backdrop of the two competing sides of her family, which are separated not just by race and culture (her father’s WASPy east coast family vs. her mother’s Chinese-American family) but also by distinctly different social classes organized around their own archaic rules.
I wanted this book to feel like a joyful romp, like a summer escape, so I tried to recreate that experience for myself as I wrote.
You’ve said that writing this book was easier in some ways than your other books – in what way? Can you describe how you approach writing differently now?
The “Crazy Rich Asians” trilogy was so personal in many ways, and I really felt the weight of responsibility to do justice to a country and a culture—actually several cultures. With this new novel, I felt liberated being able to create characters who are not at all rooted in my personal history. I wanted this book to feel like a joyful romp, like a summer escape, so I tried to recreate that experience for myself as I wrote.
The first part of Sex & Vanity is set in Capri and has some amazing descriptions of lavish homes and spaces – do you have a favorite detail? A section you most enjoyed writing?
It’s so hard picking a favorite with this one…I loved writing every single chapter in this book. I guess one of my absolute favorites was the chapter where some of my characters go on a day trip to visit a villa in Positano. It’s the first chapter where the reader is introduced to Baron Mordecai von Ephrussí, and for some reason I really get a kick out of writing about ridiculously pretentious people like him. And that outing was inspired by an experience that really happened to me—being on the Amalfi coast with a crazy captain who was piloting the speedboat at death-defying speeds, hanging on for dear life and then finally arriving at the most fantastical villa. I’m lucky to have survived!
What books do you reread for comfort? Anything that you return to again and again?
I actually find it almost impossible to reread most books once I’ve already read them, but a couple do stand out: Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Dominick Dunne’s People Like Us. I find particular comfort and inspiration from Didion’s collection of essays, and I never fail to be amused by Dunne’s brilliantly spot-on evisceration of New York society. (Incidentally, Dominick happens to be the brother of Joan’s late husband John Gregory Dunne). I can tell you that the same does not apply to movies; there are lots of movies I find myself needing to re-watch several times a year!
This interview was run by Penguin Random House for their website www.penguinrandomhouse.com. No part of this interview may published without the permission in writing from the publisher.