Waugh Echoes in Kevin Kwan Trilogy

Singapore-born novelist Kevin Kwan has just completed a trilogy of comic novels which began with Crazy Rich Asians in 2013. According to the Seattle Times, the trilogy is

set among three intergenerational and ultrarich Chinese families and peppered with hilarious explanatory footnotes, [and takes place] mostly in Singapore but flits easily from one glamorous world city to another, with Young family heir Nick and his American-born girlfriend (later wife) Rachel as our levelheaded tour guides.

Kwan in an interview with Moira Macdonald in the same article explains that he always intended the story to be told in three books. He identifies his influences in answer to another question:

I love Anthony Trollope’s “Dr. Thorne” and his “Palliser Series,” Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited,” as well as everything Jane Austen has written. I have to admit that being a child of the ’80s, I was also inspired by family sagas on TV: “Dynasty,” “Falcon Crest” and more recently “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”!

In the Toronto Star, Shinan Govani, reviewing the final book in the trilogy Rich People Problems, also makes an allusion to Waugh’s writing:

Taking social climbing to its zenith, and continuing its stealth public service of providing a peephole into a billionaire caste we only really knew from pages of The Economist, the new book comes, like the first two, with a smidgen of Evelyn Waugh, a dollop of Edith Wharton, and a dash of Dynasty. As I’ve said before: Kwan’s world is so outrageous and so wicked it succeeds in making Downton Abbey look like Downton Arriviste, and Gossip Girl feel gauche.Packed to the gills, as ever, with real estate porn, a foodie free-for-all, and fashion’s Little Black Book, another thing struck me: how much of a glossary he’s created for the modern snob.

The article continues with an A to Z of references from the three books. The second book in the trilogy is entitled China Rich Girlfriend and was published in 2015.

The Metro, a UK free distribution newspaper related to the Daily Mail, reviews another new novel with a Waugh connection. This is Party Girls Die in Pearls: An Oxford Girl Mystery by novelist and fashion journalist Victoria “Plum” Sykes, who is the grand daughter of Christopher Sykes, Evelyn Waugh’s friend and biographer. See previous post. This is Sykes’ third novel and, according to The Metro, the book is a:

…murder mystery comedy. Set in an Oxford college in 1985…it is a delightful, daft-as-a-brush caper as effervescent as the champagne everyone in the novel keeps necking. But…Sykes is no Evelyn Waugh when it comes to truly skewering Oxford collegiate life. And you have to suspend an awful lot of disbelief to swallow its bonkers set-up.

UPDATE (12 June 2017): A more positive review of the Plum Sykes novel can be found on the Daily O, an Indian online news and opinion journal:

Everyone sounds as if they’re straight out of Evelyn Waugh novels and Oscar Wilde plays…It’s all terribly posh, and please by all means regard this book as a serious anthropological exercise, especially with its almost all-male clubs and its Hildebeest conquests (as in inhabitants of the all female hall St Hilda’s). This is a campus free of gender issues, set in the 1980s so that there are no allegations of sexual harassment by tutors/date rape culture/excessive drink/drug-use. … Helpfully supplied with footnotes, it’s delightful and can be easily dismissed as anachronistic (though given the reactions to Theresa May’s premiership perhaps sexism isn’t such a dated attitude after all among the toffs)…All done very delicately and very snobbily. Think Agatha Christie meets Nancy Drew and dive in. Swim in a sea of Dom Perignon and top it with an enormous fry-up. It’s that kind of a breezy read. Ms Flowerbutton, bring more on.

This entry was posted in Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Oxford and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.