I love a good romance story as much as the next hopeless romantic. Add in a setting on Capri and I’ll be first in line to buy the book. That is exactly what happened with Sex and Vanity, the latest novel by the worldwide bestselling author Kevin Kwan. Of course, Kwan hardly needs an introduction. You’ll know him as the author of Crazy Rich Asians, a number one New York Times bestselling book and fabulous film, as well as two more bestselling books in the series China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. Despite the massive success, I’m new to the club and Sex and Vanity was the first book I’ve read by Kwan. It did not disappoint!
Sex and Vanity introduces a whole new cast of characters in a modern day retelling of E.M. Forster’s classic A Room with a View. Forster’s book (and the 1985 movie with Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands) is one of my favorites, and Kwan has an easy and lighthearted way to bring the story to life again with a setting split between Capri and New York City. The book opens with Lucie Churchill arriving on Capri with her cousin Charlotte. But this isn’t your average wedding – not even by Capri standards. This is a lavish affair set in the island’s most captivating and historic spots, all beautifully described in luscious detail by Kwan. A young Lucie, caught in the romance of Capri and the fabulous wedding, meets George Zhao and is equal parts repulsed and allured by this strange man. Things get a little, well, steamy like a summer night on Capri can be. Despite their undeniable connection, Lucie and George part ways after a shocking experience leaving that time on Capri firmed fixed in the past in Lucie’s mind.
The second part of the book picks up 5 years later in New York City where Lucie is a successful art advisor and is engaged to the popular yet this time undeniably obnoxious Cecil Pike. Believing she has life figured out without realizing she herself is missing from it, Lucie’s carefully composed plans are thrown out of whack again when she runs into George while spending a weekend at her family’s home in East Hampton with her fiancé. As George re-enters her life and those steamy memories from Capri come back to haunt both of them, Lucie wonders if the life she had planned might be completely wrong. Can she let her carefully constructed life fall apart in order to embrace something better? Can Lucie follower her heart?
If you’re familiar with A Room with a View, you’ll know how things end up. But Sex and Vanity is a fun romp through luxury living on Capri and New York City with endearing characters and good laughs. There’s still the prudish and meddling Charlotte and the Reverend Mr. Beebe (my favorite character from the book and movie) turned into “celebrated yoga master, life coach, motivational speaker, and self-help author” Auden Beebe. That gave me a good laugh!
For all you Capri enthusiasts, you’ll enjoy this book. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s the escape to a warm summer day on Capri that we all need right now. I truly hope Sex and Vanity will be made into a major film so we can all see the glittering rehearsal dinner at the Certosa di San Giacomo and especially the enchanting wedding at the Villa Lysis and Villa Jovis.
I first heard about Sex and Vanity from my friend Holly Star on Capri. Along with her husband, Gianluca, they owned the popular Ristorante Michel’angelo and now the stunning Giardino di Capri near the Blue Grotto. It’s fun when you open a book and on the first page–in those glorious moments of getting lost in a new story–suddenly find a mention of someone you know. It’s a tantalizing blend of fact and fiction, of life and romance, of real and imagined. That’s exactly what happened as I read the opening page of Sex and Vanity, with a mention of Ristorante Michel’angelo’s delicious spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and burrata cheese. How fun is that? You can watch Holly and Gianluca prepare that very dish on Facebook live with Kevin Kwan here.
Kwan’s love of Capri really shines through and for me it was the highlight of Sex and Vanity. You can feel that he’s spent a lot of time on Capri absorbing its magic since the island and its historic sights are just as much a character in the story. Along with the vibrant descriptions, there are tidbits of history shared between characters and sights featured that many day trippers miss, such as the Casa Malaparte, Villa Lysis, and the ruins of Villa Jovis.
After the book was published, I enjoyed reading Kevin Kwan’s posts on Instagram about his favorite places on the island and where he found inspiration. One visit to his swoon worthy website www.kevinkwanbooks.com and you’ll see how much he adores Capri. That to me is a sign of good people. I fell in love on Capri and I’m here in Italy still largely because of that first day on Capri. So how could I be anything but in love with this book? I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did!
Just one thing: Sex and Vanity has a very sweet scene with two characters swimming into the Blue Grotto. But please remember that this is a work of fiction. Don’t swim in the Blue Grotto on Capri! It’s not allowed and it’s not a great idea. The currents can be strong there on the northwestern side of Capri with waves making it dangerous to swim in and out. Swimming in the Blue Grotto is forbidden and there were even fines during the summer of 2020 over €1,000 per person. I know the idea sounds romantic, but it’s risky. As someone who lives here, I couldn’t in good faith not mention the reality of the situation should you be planning a trip to the island inspired by Sex and Vanity.
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