I heard about the book Crazy Rich Asians a while ago though I never got the chance to read it… until recently when everyone around me started talking about how amazing the movie is! Then I realized I had to read this book.
Before you guys keep reading this review, please keep in mind two things:
- This is a review of the book, not the movie (which I have yet to see)
- This is just my opinion (ie. please don’t kill me LOL)
When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick’s formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should–and should not–marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.
Rachel, now an economics professor, had immigrated from mainland China as a child with her mother. They got by as a usual middle income family. Nick’s family in Singapore was very very rich, but Nick had been brought up to not speak about his wealth and to live frugally. Nick was Rachel’s boyfriend of several years, they clicked right away and seemed perfect for each other, though they never talked about marriage. However, Rachel wondered if there was something more serious brewing in their relationship when Nick asked her to go to Singapore to meet his family. She did not expect Nick’s family to be one of the richest, most prestigious families in Asia.
The characters were hit or miss for me. Rachel and Nick were all right. Rachel was kind, considerate, hardworking and couldn’t care for marrying into riches. Nick was a nice and modest guy, and in America no one could guess that he came from a rich background. They were both very beautiful people. I felt that Rachel and Nick were both too perfect and didn’t have real personality flaws which made them less relatable.
There were a few secondary characters that I liked who showed more depth, including Astrid and Michael and towards the end, Nick’s mom. Other than that, other characters were either portrayed as good or bad with no in-between. In general, there were way too many characters, some just mentioned once or twice who I did not care to know about (or remember).
Despite this, I find that this novel had a realistic take on adult relationships. There was no melodrama or cheesiness. Some relationships worked and some didn’t. I liked the emphasis on family dynamics rather than romance in this novel.
“Remember, every treasure comes with a price.”
The book was about Rachel’s experience with Nick’s family, starting with her initial shock at how rich they are, and then her adjustment to the extravagant lives that Nick’s family and friends live and their expectations of her. The plot was slow-moving and had some heavy elements, which was a surprise because I expected this book to be a light read. The pacing was slow which allowed us to get to know the many characters.
What I did not like was that the main conflicts were driven by Nick’s family. Nick and Rachel were victims of their circumstances– things happened to them and they reacted to it rather than taking the proactive role. The redeeming factor was that there were some plot twists towards the end which took me by surprise.
“Eleanor had a long-held theory about men. She truly believed that for most men, all that talk of “being in love” or “finding the right one” was absolute nonsense. Marriage was purely a matter of timing, and whenever a man was finally done sowing his wild oats and ready to settle down, whichever girl happened to be there at the time would be the right one.”
Though there were humorous elements, there were aspects of the writing that I didn’t enjoy as much. This novel was written with a third person omniescent point of view. There was a lot of head-hopping, meaning that you literally know what everyone in the room was thinking. So the dialogues went like this:
“Pass the toast please,” Rachel says while admiring how handsome Nick is and how lucky she is to have him as her boyfriend.
“Sure thing,” Nick says, pondering how it will be when Rachel finally meets his family and discover that they are crazy rich.
(These were not lines from the actual book but there were segments that come off this way.) I think omniescent narrators can be done well but the narration just felt off in this novel.
Secondly, as the novel name suggests, there were some very rich people in this novel which meant a lot of extravagance. It was described well for the most part, the huge palace-like houses, the designer dresses and the expensive jewellery, and it made for some shock factor at the beginning of the novel, “Wow these people ARE rich”! but it became over the top fast. I didn’t need to know how many diamonds the girlfriend of Nick’s second cousin was wearing for the fifth time, especially if she was not central to the novel.
The worldbuilding was done well. Though this was a contemporary novel, most of us are not familiar with being rich and this novel did a pretty of job of showing us what that would be like. The extravagant descriptions and the many characters added to the worldbuilding, though these were aspects that I found annoying throughout the novel. We got a sense of what it was like to be part of Nick’s family, the vast numbers of relatives he has, the drama between them and just how rich they were.
The novel tried to tackle a pretty big topic: does money bring happiness? I think it did a good job for the most part, showing us the troubles that money could bring and the conflicts that were unique to the rich. Spoiler: (highlight to reveal) However, I was confused by the ending which felt disconnected from this theme: despite all the trouble money caused our protagonists, all the conflicts they faced were resolved with… more money.
The Bottom Line: 2/5 stars
Crazy Rich Asians was a disappointment for me: the superficial characters, head-hopping narration, and over-the-top descriptions were a bit too much.
(That being said, I have a feeling that I might enjoy the movie more than the book. What do you guys think?)