- First published in 2013 by Doubleday
- Format: Audiobook
- Narrator: Lynn Chen
- Listening Speed: 1.5x
- Listening Time: 2 outrageous days
- Opting for this one instead of Ninth House for my New Year’s Resolutions Reading Challenge as I got this one in an Audible sale. It’s rather ironic that the challenge prompt is ‘save money’ when this book is all about over-the-top displays of wealth. This book circles around the rich and the famous of high Singapore society. When Rachel Chu is invited by her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, to spend the summer in Singapore to meet his family, she never could imagine how luxurious a lifestyle they lead. His family is rich. Like, crazy rich and they have personalities to match. Can Rachel, with her humble origins, survive the gauntlet of the Singapore elite with her relationship with Nick intact? One thing’s for sure, Nick should have warned her what she was in for.
- Very ostentatious displays of wealth all over the place as you’d expect. That’s thrown right in your face from the beginning with a wonderfully satisfying scene that shows the characters giving a racist what they deserve and never stops. Just when you think that the elite couldn’t fling enough money around, along comes another outrageously expensive thing. Whether it’s a bachelorette at a private island or a spur of the moment trip to Australia, there will be a shocking display of wealth on every page. You won’t know whether to be awed or green with envy.
- Extends a bit of schadenfreude and softens the jealousy it might induce in readers who aren’t super rich by showing that money definitely doesn’t buy happiness. It’s thankfully not done in a preachy or moralising way. Some of the elite are happy in their own way and some of them even managed not to raise their kids to be entitled jerks. At the same time, you can see that these people have known nothing different so they never even question whether this extravagant lifestyle is what they really want or what the people around them really want. The latter definitely comes back to bite some of the characters. Characters like Astrid might be kind and down-to-earth with a healthy streak of rebellion but they’re still a product of her upbringing and completely going against their family’s expectations or thinking about how other people view it is unthinkable.
- Racism is very present though we only get our most obvious look at it in the opening scene. The rest is very subtle. We see preference given to families who embrace Western culture (e.g. someone gets greater respect if they were brought up Christian rather than anything else) but they can’t embrace it too much or they’re considered too Westernised and will be shunned. They’ll also be shunned if their skin is too dark or their hair isn’t straight. It feels like there’s a lot of internalised self-hatred just under the surface of the displays of great confidence and pride in their long family histories.
- Will not believe the snobbishness and endless divisions within the Singapore high society shown in this book. If a person’s family lineage isn’t long and illustrious, they’re Overseas Chinese or Mainland Chinese, they’re new money, they’re from the wrong part of Mainland China, they’re the wrong type of Overseas Chinese or – horror of horrors – marry the wrong person, they can bet their bottom million dollars that they’re not going to be accepted. It’s positively medieval at times but, like the displays of wealth, it’s believably unbelievable.
- Handles twisting and interlacing plotlines very well. I don’t think I ever got too lost in the sea of names and I could always keep up with the plot. The plot itself was fantastic and never left me bored for a moment. There was always a new twist or a new fantastic location/event around the corner. It’s definitely not the sort of book I’d usually enjoy (being a contemporary romance) but the fact that I still enjoyed it is a sign of how good it is.
- Excellent characterisation. Rachel is our main character who is the fish out of water among the mega-wealthy but there are so many other fascinating characters such as Astrid, Nick, Peik Lin Even the ones you hate will get a little glimmer of something better. Characters like Eleanor who, for all her snobbishness and obsession with upholding the family name, does still care about her son in her own way. You definitely can’t say all the characters are likeable but they are most definitely readable, even if it’s just a perverse fascination in how bad they act this time.
- Left a few ends untied with the plot and it feels like some parts (such as a little Goh family subplot) have been deliberately left open for a sequel. It’s not a bad thing as the story still feels complete but it still niggled at me.
- Magnificently binge-able style that handled everything from witty satire to emotional turmoil excellently. I’m especially impressed at how the book handles descriptions of places. It would have been so easy to just info-dump everything on the reader or to turn each description into an info dump. Yet, even though the descriptions are extensive, it never feels like Kwan is trying too hard to impress us. He knows the scenery is impressive enough without having to lay it on too thick.
- I liked the romance between Rachel and Nick but the relationship that stood out for me was the friendship between Nick and Colin. It’s clear how much they’ve supported each other ever since they were children and it’s so heartwarming to see these two reasonable people helping each other out in a sea of phonies and jerks. The bachelor party scene was easily one of the best parts of the book.
- Now, most of this book is a funny take on the ridiculousness of the elite but, near the end, the book takes a rather dark turn to look at a very grim side of recent Chinese history. I’m not going to spoil it but I will say that I’m a bit scared to look up whether that’s accurate.
- Got to come with an ‘addictive’ warning. Even if I wasn’t rushing through this book to make sure I had a review out on time, I would still take every minute I could to read this. This book takes you on a fun and jaw-dropping ride through the lives of the mega-rich and, even if you don’t normally like contemporary books, you should still give this one a go.
Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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