I recently finished reading through three of the soapiest books I think I’ve ever read: Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems. Each book I read in maybe three or four days, and they kept me engaged in a way few books can. It’s probably safe to say I devoured the books, to use an oft-repeated bibliophile trope. They’re the perfect example of books that I can identify clear, glaring flaws in and yet still enjoy immensely.
First, a quick overview for the unfamiliar: the books focus on Rachel Chu and Nick Young, and the complicated family dynamics they face when the pair of lovers become tangled in Nick’s outrageously wealthy Singaporean clan. The books are unapologetically soap-operatic. There are wild twists, false identities, hidden motives, and family scandals aplenty.
Kwan leans into all of it, sometimes questionably: despite some chapters being focused explicitly on one character and giving the reader interiority on that character, sometimes the narration will suddenly jump to the perspective of another character for a few paragraphs. Despite this flouting of a narrative convention, these perspective shifts always serve to further that ultimate, soapy goal–now we know Oliver secretly hates the taste of Kitty, despite him making nice with her!!
Melodrama abounds and the plot proceeds at a breakneck pace. The only thing slowing the action down are the sumptuous, excessive descriptions of the characters’ indulgence in sumptuous, excessive wealth. Among the myriad of writing choices I wouldn’t have made, this was the only one I both disliked but recognized as ultimately necessary: the wealth-porn aspect of the series was seriously boring to read repeatedly (like, emphasis on repeatedly–every new setting had paragraphs of luscious prose descriptions) and yet I understand that part of the appeal to some readers were these lurid details.
One of the headline reviews of the book was something like, “Kevin Kwan knows how to deliver guilty pleasures,” and my god was that on point. As a nerdboy, I generally disagree with the concept of guilty pleasures–like what you like, y’all–but this book is written like it knows its a guilty pleasure and it’s proud of it. Every malignant character has a satisfying comeuppance moment, and the two main characters have a fairy-tale happy ending. The only mistake Kwan made with the resolution of Rich People Problems was deciding to end the book series when he did–I think he has an evergreen hit on his hands here and I could easily envision a world where the Crazy Rich series wends on indefinitely. As it is, I was happy the series ended here–the treacly feeling of the books can lead to a sugar stomach ache and a little bit went a long way for me.