As the gap between the world’s haves and have-nots yawns ever wider, fluffy novels about quotidian wealth just won’t cut it. Sure, the socialites of chick-lit classics like Bergdorf Blondes paid beaucoup bucks for lavish summer homes and the perfect honey highlights—but did they ever drop $195 million on a single work of art? Did they employ personal sommeliers and sushi chefs? Did they jet off to Paris on a moment’s notice via private 747s tricked out with Russian reindeer leather sofas, karaoke lounges, IMAX screens, and fully functioning operating rooms—just in case?
Welcome to the world of China Rich Girlfriend, which picks up a few years after the events of Kevin Kwan’s frothy 2013 best-seller, Crazy Rich Asians. In accordance with the Law of Sequels, it’s more over-the-top than its predecessor—which is saying something, considering Crazy Rich Asians culminates in a $40 million wedding. Here, the focus shifts from Singapore to China, an even more opulent playground: “These people aren’t just everyday rich with a few hundred million,” snobby matriarch Eleanor Young breathlessly explains to her son Nick, the hero of both novels. “They are China rich!”
Nick and his partner, American-born nobody Rachel Chu, learn as much when they travel to Shanghai, where they rub shoulders with the mainland elite. Other, slightly more potent threads follow Nick’s cousin Astrid Leong—who’s finding that marriage to a tech zillionaire isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—and the ultra-gauche Kitty Pong, a onetime sex-tape star looking to break into Hong Kong high society.
But plot is hardly the point of China Rich; it barely intrudes on the narrative until a series of last-minute soap-operatic twists unfolds. The characters, too, are flat, mostly because they’re forced to spout clunky exposition and posh brand names in equal measure. Kwan relegates his wittiest writing to minor details, like a hanger-on ingeniously named Perrineum Wang, and a string of wry footnotes. He just barely flirts with analyzing the ironies and psychology of conspicuous spending in an oppressive Communist nation. Which is a shame: Girlfriend could have been incisive as well as entertaining. Instead, it’s more buoyant than rich. B
“But where are the cabins?” Eddie asked, still confused. “Mr. Cheng, I’m afraid British Airways does not have private cabins in first class.”