Hailed as an exercise in inclusion, the movie counterpart of Crazy Rich is winning over critics and audiences alike. With an all-Asian cast, this hadn’t happened in decades of Hollywood productions. Despite the film’s relevance, I am going to focus on the 2013 novel which is the basis for the picture. I bought the book with the intent of devouring the bestseller before checking out the film version. I had just over a week to go through the 403-page paperback. Challenge accepted.
In all fairness, it is quite an easy read. One of my friends heard that ‘It was a romp’. There is usually a healthy balance of dialogue, plot, and description. Foreign words of Cantonese, Hokkien, and Malay origin add colour. A lot of highfaluting words likewise pepper the text, which made me consult an online dictionary quite often. Kwan makes it his point though to overindulge in dainty prose. At many instances, readers will tire of the ornate flowers, golden chicken wings, and brand names that seem out of this world. I had already borrowed another Connelly when I prioritised this read.
What’s more: the book has a good helping of wit. We see this in how an ageing patriarch snaps out of a coma after ten years. His subsequent miserly ways make his daughter, Nadine, rid herself of all jewellery and makeup. So when Eleanor sees her friend, she mistakes her for one of the maids, and promptly orders a glass of iced tea. Meanwhile, a smorgasbord of cuisines and cultural peculiarities gives life to this text.
If you are motivated, one week is already too long. Completing it within five or six days is certainly doable. In fact, one critic has labelled it ‘the perfect weekend beach read’. The characters, which centre around Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young, are so relatable. The book incorporates many themes: the love between the crazy rich Nick and his partner, Rachel; Rachel’s culture shock; the enviable friendship between Rachel and Peik Lin; the bond of Eleanor and her well off social circle; the struggles of marrying into wealthy families; the pampered lives of the Asian jet set; the close ties between extended Asian families, and the backstabbing, sucking up, and jockeying in the wedding of the year, which is why Rachel went to Singapore in the first place.
Everything is made of gold, from the toilet soap dispensers, to the dragonflies. Every sweet delicacy is an exotic pastry you never knew existed, and thrust into this is unwitting Rachel. She sees Nick initially as a different person. As said in the book, nowhere is there more concentration of millionaires than in Singapore. Rachel gets invited to her friend’s house, a rarity on the island as there are flats everywhere. She gets to see the house of Nick’s grandma, a rolling estate with guards that appears nowhere on Google Earth. The whole family is indeed like a myth, with Peik Lin never having heard of them.
Beneath all these cash, stocks and properties, there is a lot of scheming going on. Upon going on the hen’s night, Rachel realised that this is not her crowd. The girls are busy comparing outfits and their designer goods, bickering over who’s dated who. Every lover is either not cute enough or has inadequate wealth. While many despise or envy Rachel, a few chaps are kind. Even Nick acknowledges that she just has to be herself and the support will surprise her. Rachel questions her identity, and she learns more about herself than in decades living with her Mum in the U.S. You will be torn: love or family? A special someone or one family’s fortune? Each page is as captivating as the last.
For the relief of El Cheapo
Kwan has produced two more novels since Crazy Rich, thus concluding his trilogy. From modest beginnings, his work has morphed into a multi-platform cash cow. Of course I would’ve loved to see the film. It is very highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes and has people watching, and talking about it. But I’m just glad that I had the chance to read the book. After contending with a cheapie earlier in the week, it’s nice to escape to Samsara.