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To DNF or to Power Through?

scared

I’m used to having unpopular opinions. It can bother me when it feels like the thing I love is being misunderstood, or on the flip side when I feel the thing is VILE and it is instead much-beloved.

Movies and most particularly video games are easy to stop if I hate them. But books feel different. I’ve always liked books best, for one thing, so they deserve more consideration on the whole. I seem to go through stages, where DNFing a book is easy and I employ the surrender option often so that I can try new things with less stress or get through a tall stack more quickly and with less pain.

But when it comes to things I have to review or rec to someone, I feel like I need to get as much information as possible. In the case of NetGalley ARCs in particular, I’m new enough to feel like I should try to like everything, and still feeling my diligence when it comes to finishing. I have heard of other people who DNF as they need, as well as those who abuse the privilege and backlog 50 or 60 ARCs as if they’re just free candy.

There is one ARC I have that I thought I would like and it’s a Request Now title. But… to say I become quickly disenchanted with it would be putting it mildly. Rather like one saying that one does not wish to eat fetid entrails from the fresh corpse of a diseased sheep. But my opinion seems to fly in the face of a cheering fanbase, five-starring all over the place.

I suppose my opinion is unimportant when the dilemma is “Do I finish this so that I can feel less guilty about the one-star review I know it’s going to be” or “Do I cut my losses and write a brief review?”

DNFing is not an easy choice in any case. Some readers never DNF as a matter of principle, which is fine as long as they don’t use that to project and judge other readers. Others DNF without stress. I don’t really know where I fall on the spectrum.

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A Whole New World – DNF

Liz Braswell’s A Whole New World is such a waste of potential. As with any book that has more than one attractive cover–I particularly like the style of the reprint covers for the series–the contents being less attractive is a major let-down. But it’s also a waste of a fun idea. The series is called “Twisted Tales” to reflect the concept that each book is basically a Disney animated feature film book adaptation with a what-if plot twist. The twist for the first book, based on Aladdin, is that he never got the lamp.

I’m assuming that Jafar did get the lamp and his reign of terror simply took place sooner. I didn’t get that far. For a long time, I had better things to read, or higher priority books like ARCs. I did suffer through the saccharine prologue about Aladdin’s unrealistically sainted mother a couple of times. It holds hints of the book’s many, many failings, but I didn’t want to dump it based on that alone. Fans of Renaissance Disney have this weird inclination to imagine the dead mothers of protagonists as idealised women who are perfect the way that a poorly written Yamato Nadeshiko is perfect: flawless, meek, and selfless to the point of lacking even healthy self-interest. The idealised Disney mother, if she’s ever alive, is written in such a way that she is quite obviously doomed to die, probably beautifully. It’s kind of gross. Dehumanising a character and thinking it poetic.

One thing the prologue has going for it is that it’s original. It has pathetic, incredibly forced callouts to recognisable things in the Aladdin franchise (comprised in my view of the three movies and the animated series) like Rasoul and Aladdin’s mother decides to get him a pet. Because when you don’t have enough money to eat, a pet is a thing you want. But it’s still more like fan fiction and less like a straight up novelisation. After the prologue, the book becomes a novelisation.

A breathtakingly dreadful novelisation.

Although I can see where quoting the movie verbatim would be irritating to some readers, I would have preferred it. Some lines of dialogue sound like they were in the movie, but since I grew up watching it, I could correct the changed lines in my head. They weren’t as good as the original lines, nostalgia notwithstanding.

Action was streamlined to the point of being outright removed, and I felt more like I was being told about the movie by someone who had both barely watched it and had hated what they did watch. In the movie, the guards who chase Aladdin during the song One Jump are ugly bumblers, but they’re still effing ARMED and he’s running. This communicates to the audience that they are a threat.

Braswell chose to remove all tension from the chase and instead reduce it to the same adverb-heavy navel-gazing as every other part of the narrative.

​He scooted around Rasoul and managed to duck past the rest of the guards as they grabbed at him ineptly. Ten of them weren’t worth one of Rasoul–thank goodness. He was the only one Aladdin needed to worry about–and he knew the streets almost as well as the boy did.

This is the only mention of the guards who are not Rasoul. All of Aladdin’s dialogue during the chase is broken up by heavy breathing and too much thinking. He gets injured, which did not happen in the movie and cannot be chalked up to the “twisted” what-if that the book is supposed to deliver.

At this point, I was fatigue-y and in a lot of pain, so I’d asked my husband to read to me so I could maybe fall asleep after a bit. But I couldn’t fall asleep when every few sentences I had to stop him to ask if the book actually said that or if he was bamming me. His disbelief was about as constant. Why is there an allusion to prostitution? Because there was a visual reference in the movie? That could come and go without comment because it was a visual reference. Written references are far more overt, and they have to be justified. The small moment of kindness when Aladdin gives his bread to the tinier orphans becomes this overwrought drama with waffling contradictions about how street rats treat each other. “Oh we look out for each other!” And then he thinks, “I know what it’s like to be picked on by the bigger kids who stole my food!” Which is it?? Honour among beggars/thieves or everyone for himself?

Then there is the research fail. It’s painful. If any research of Middle Eastern countries went into this book, it must have come from the back of a cereal box. Baklava! Turban! Effendi! Dates! If Abu hadn’t been in the movie, I’m sure the author would have felt it necessary to add a monkey on her own initiative. Braswell apparently has an anti-monarchy streak in this series, and it looks like woefully uneducated American revisionism, because this is so obviously not her culture. Aladdin made a random mental observation about the fat sultan playing with his toys instead of seeing to his people. …which… no.  This was what ultimately drove both Hubby and me to just stop trying and DNF. He literally handed me the book and said, “Reading this is making me uncomfortable.”

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Reflection – Hadriana in All My Dreams

I gave this book four stars out of five, but I don’t really feel like I could write a proper review. I don’t think I could even write a coherent summary. There are probably spoilers, but you can’t really spoil this book. It isn’t plot that you’re reading it for.

This is the book that I kept picking up and putting back at the library. The back used words that amounted to “zombie romance” and that was what I signed on for. Technically, it’s there. But nothing is that straightforward. When I looked this up to figure out the genre, I came up with Magical Realism. However, while reading it, I kept thinking about weird fiction. It wasn’t quite that, but it was similar.

The language is beautiful, occasionally incomprehensible in a poetic way, but less often than one might think. it was also funny! For all that there is a lot of frank sexual descriptions and discussion, it never struck me as a sexy book. The characters and prose seem more interested in sex as something that actually ever happens than in talking about it in order to titillate a reader.

Aside from the many asides, which one might expect in magical realism, the basic plot is that Hadriana Siloé died on her wedding day, which the narrator, Patrick I-Forgot-his-Surname, never got over it. There’s a happy ending, and more gets explained than I had expected.

As cool as anything else is the history of the book. The author René Depestre wrote it in 1988 set in Jacmel and based on decades old memories of living there. It was translated into several languages, but never in English until this edition. The translator and the person who wrote the foreword have also piqued my interest. I need to look them up.

There is a section that is sort of a many-times abandoned essay about zombies wherein Patrick kept trying to grapple with his feelings about Hadriana’s death and the suspicious disappearance of her body. This was one of my favourite bits. He had I think ten different proposals in it, all of them hefty ideas like explaining how Haitian zombies actually work, or the history of slavery and the psychology of humans.

Like most weird things I have read, I don’t know who I’d recommend this to. Probably Hubby, but I want him to read everything strange that I’m even aware of. Still trying to get him to read House of Stairs.