It’s fair to say that Kevin Kwan’s life changed in 2013. After publishing his hugely successful debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians, Kwan followed it up with a pair of well-received sequels, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. In 2018 – with the release of the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians looming – Kwan was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people.
With his latest novel, Kwan is putting the Crazy Rich trilogy behind him. An homage to E. M. Forster’s classic A Room with a View, Sex and Vanity is a love story centred on Lucie Churchill, the daughter of an American-born Chinese woman and a New Yorker father, who tries to sublimate both her Asian heritage and her attraction to the beguiling George Zao, who she meets on holiday in Italy. The comedy of culture clash and manners takes elements of his indulgent first trilogy of books, pulling them taut over a classic romance story.
On the week of the book’s recent release, we asked Kwan about the films, TV, art and music he’s been immersing himself in lately.
Film: North by Northwest
North By Northwest is one of my favourite films. I recently re-watched it and was reminded of what an absolute master Alfred Hitchcock is. Every element of this 1959 movie – from Eva Marie Saint’s gorgeous costumes and the cool mid-century design sets to the witty dialogue and edge-of-your-seat plot – still holds up. I wish there were more smart, stylish movies like this.
This German Netflix series Dark is perhaps the boldest, most original, most mind-blowing show I’ve ever seen. As a novelist who constructs complex family trees and overlapping stories that span different time periods, I’m in absolute awe of the labyrinthine structure of this show. It was so entertaining to get lost in the world these brilliant screenwriters created.
Art: Yun Hyong-Keun
I recently discovered the Korean artist Yun Hyong-Keun, one of the most significant Korean artists of the 20th Century. For the last four decades of his life, he created these exquisite, minimalist paintings on raw canvas using only two colours – ultramarine and umber – that remind me of Mark Rothko’s artworks. “The purer the painting is, the harder it is to paint,” he said.
Lockdown hobby: Home tour videos
Since I haven’t been able to travel, I’ve been armchair travelling by watching these home tour Instagram videos on Cabana and House & Garden. I find them incredibly soothing and inspiring. H&G’s recent video of Axel Vervoordt’s castle outside of Antwerp (below) is absolutely sublime.
Music: Harry Styles
Believe it or not, these days I’m really loving Harry Styles’ latest album, Fine Line. Let’s be clear: I wasn’t a fan of One Direction, but I find his solo work to be fun, catchy, and at times profound. He reminds me of a young David Bowie in the way that he isn’t afraid to experiment and shape-shift into different sounds and guises.
Fiction: A Room with a View
E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View has been one of my favourite books since I was a teenager because I loved how cleverly Forster observed English society during his time, and how he captured Italy in a way that made me fall in love with the country just by reading about it on the page.