Saturday, 30 July 2011

'The Phantom of the Opera' by Gaston Leroux (1911)

Synopsis: For several years there have been rumours of a ghost that haunts the Paris opera house and its underground tunnels - and that it wreaks havoc if anything makes it angry. Despite the sightings and fears of the ballerinas and stage-hands, the new managers of the opera house are determined to stamp out the ridiculous stories about the 'Phantom of the Opera'. This results in threatening letters and an increasing amount of "accidents". Meanwhile the young and beautiful soprano Christine Daae is taking Paris by storm although no-one knows who's taught her how to sing. When her childhood sweetheart, the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, pays Christine a visit one night he overhears a passionate exchange between her and a man in her dressing room... but there isn't a man in her dressing room. Christine credits her new-found vocal abilities to the Angel of Music, who is of course the opera ghost. Raoul then discovers that the Phantom is really a half-mad and horribly deformed musical genius called Erik - who is madly in love with Christine and has made her become engaged to him. Raoul and Christine then plan to run away together but Christine's "Angel of Music" isn't going to let her leave him so easily...

I actually read this book ages before I saw this book's most famous adaptation, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I'm possibly one of the few people alive today that has done that. Most people discover Phantom of the Opera through the musical first but I hadn't even listened to a cast recording at the time and only knew the title song. I had no idea what to expect from this book and I had no expectations whatsoever. In the end I absolutely loved it : ) It's one of my favourite books and I think it's fantastic and criminally underrated.

Gaston Leroux took inspiration from many different elements when he wrote The Phantom of the Opera. He drew from the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, his favourite opera Faust, Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris, his love of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe's detective fiction, and also classical mythology (the tale of Orpheus and the underworld and the tale of Eros and Psyche). Leroux put all of these different elements together and came up a beautiful and heartwrenching love triangle and one of the very best anti-heroes ever. Erik is arrogant, selfish, menacing, violent and mentally unhinged. He throws tantrums like a child. He stalks and then kidnaps Christine. He's even a murderer and kills at least two people. Is it any wonder that Christine chose Raoul?! However Leroux still manages to make Erik a sympathetic character and even very likeable despite all of his faults. Erik is intensely lonely. He's deeply and genuinely in love with Christine. He's also hideously ugly and has been deprived of any sort of love and affection in his life because of that. Raoul and Christine might be the hero and heroine of the book - and they are good characters - but the Phantom is the character that everyone pities and loves.

Leroux's Phantom of the Opera is hugely engaging and a magnificent gothic-mystery novel. I adore gothic literature and this book has an amazingly eerie and haunting atmosphere. It's got a snowy cemetery, dark opera backstages and underground labyrinths. Also, even when the Phantom isn't technically on the page his presence is everywhere in this book. I also very much love the fact that the book is written as a detective/mystery novel because I love that genre. The Phantom of the Opera has got action and romance and is even quite funny at times (Erik has a very dark and sarcastic sense of humour). 

The Phantom of the Opera is such a massively underrated novel. Admittedly it's hardly the most obscure classic out there but it's much less famous than the musical it inspired. It deserves to be much more widely known. In fact people don't tend to read this novel unless they're already a fan of the ALW musical and they're often shocked at the differences between the two. The Phantom's name is Erik in the book but in the musical it's never mentioned. The Persian, who is one of the most important characters in the novel, is completely absent in the musical. Raoul is brave and chivalrous in the musical but in the book he's emotionally hysterical and has a tendency to burst into tears. Thankfully he does toughen up as the story goes along. Raoul has an older brother called Philippe in the book. The managers of the opera house aren't quite as comical in the book as they are in the musical. It's even implied that Christine Daae - who is blonde and blue-eyed in this version by the way - may be a madwoman at the beginning of the book before the reason for her strange behaviour is explained. Christine is also a stronger and better-developed character in the book than she is in the musical. The musical is still pretty faithful when it comes to the major plot points and events of the book however and the Phantom is still the most intriguing of the characters.

You don't need me to tell you about this book though, right? If you're any kind of Phantom fan then you'll have already read this book by now. And if you haven't read this book then what are you waiting for?! The ALW musical is fantastic in its own right of course and I adore its beautiful music and its amazing visuals. It's my second favourite musical after Les Miserables. However you'll understand the Phantom better from reading this book and the ending is better in my opinion. That final conversation between Erik and the Persian is absolutely heartbreaking. The only complaint that I have with this book is that Raoul and the Persian's scene with the Ratcatcher towards the end is really random and weird. But apart from that it's awesome. Read it! : ) 

Rating: 5/5


Mizzie-Me said...

Je pense que je lirai ce livre immédiatement quand je serai fini avec The Tale of Two Cities ;)

Indigo Montoya said...

Oui, excellent!