Saturday, December 20, 2014
Book Review: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Strange things happen at the opera house, and there are more than a few people involved that are paranoid. A ghost is among them, making strange things happen. They see him everywhere. And now, one of the scene changers has been found dead. As the new owners take over the opera house, they believe it is all a joke with them as the butt of it. But a newly-emerged singer, and the young nobleman who is in love with her, are about to find out just who is behind all these strange occurrences. The ghost's lair is deep below the opera house. Will they make it out with their love intact? And worse, will they make it out alive?
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from Goodreads
First published in French as a serial in 1909, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine's childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous 'ghost' of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux's work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik's past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.
It's kind of hard not to be familiar with the concept of the Phantom. I mean, there's a musical and a movie (of the musical), and there have been other movies in the past featuring the character. The Phantom is a culture icon. Who doesn't recognize the mask?
I've seen the musical on Broadway. I've seen the movie version of the musical. I actually read Susan Kay's retelling, Phantom, some years ago and loved it. Not sure why it took me so long to get around to the original. If you're familiar with the Phantom and his story, and you haven't read the original, I would say do it. It's very interesting to get to the foundation of the characters, especially the Phantom himself.
The Phantom of the Opera was originally written in French and later translated to English. Because of that, I cannot say for certain how true this translation is to Leroux's writing style. Still, the version I listened to was very clean. I wouldn't have known it wasn't originally in English. My knowledge of the French language mainly consists of baguette, bonjour, and how to say I'm a cheese omelette (a highly useful phrase in any language) so I cannot really judge the style on this novel as the author wrote it. Based on the prose of the version I've now experienced, I would say it must be beautiful... but that's just a guess.
My experience with this novel is very positive. It was easy to listen to (and would be easy to read). It's very accessible.
As I mentioned, I'm very familiar with the story of the Phantom, mostly from a more in-depth character study from Susan Kay's adaptation, which really expands on the original. But getting into the real building blocks of Christine Daae, Erik, Raoul, and the other characters was an eye-opener. It was wonderful, almost spying on the characters in their native habitat. The characters of Raoul's older brother and the Persian are so often overlooked that it was great to see them in much more detail, to really experience them and their roles in the narrative.
The humanity of the Phantom is truly exposed in this original novel, especially when compared to the movie version starring Gerard Butler. The truth of Erik's identity comes out in this, and we see his weakness and vulnerability so purely at the end of the novel that I hate it gets overlooked or cut in many other adaptations.
Would I Recommend This Book? Highly. When it comes to familiar stories, like fairy tales or old stories like this that have been told and retold so often, it's always a good idea to go back to the roots. I give The Phantom of the Opera an ingenious 4 out of 5 stars.