Wednesday, 3 August 2011

'Phantom' by Susan Kay (1990)

Synopsis: A spin-off of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, Phantom retells the life of Erik/the Phantom from his birth right up to his death. 

This book seems to be much-loved by a lot of Phantom of the Opera fans but I'm really not sure why. It did nothing for me whatsoever and it makes me really sad that some fans rate it even more highly than Leroux's novel. I first heard about Phantom a couple of years ago but I was extremely sceptical about it and it turns out I was right.

In fairness I wouldn't say that this book is terrible. Well, it's not all terrible. The first half of Phantom is actually quite decent. OK, it is a bit contrived and sensationalistic in places but Kay does a good job at fleshing out the details of Erik's backstory that are only hinted at in Leroux's novel. I have to admit that I found the Rome and Persia sections of this book pretty interesting and I was impressed by the sheer amount of research that Kay must have done. In fact, if Kay had ended her novel right where Leroux's book starts off then I think we would have been left with a perfectly decent prequel to Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately Kay didn't choose to end her novel at this point and I carried on reading.

The second half of Phantom is a total let-down and to be perfectly frank I think most of it really sucks. First of all we find out that Christine Daae bears an uncanny resemblance to Madeleine, Erik's mother. Now surely I can't be the only person who finds this a bit creepy and Freudian?! And besides, Madeleine hated Erik and vice versa so wouldn't Christine's physical resemblance to his mother be off-putting to him? And why does Erik sell his soul to the devil in the version?! What's up with that?!

Another thing that I found extremely irritating about this book are the bizarre alterations from Leroux's original story that occur. It's really strange because Kay has obviously made an effort, in the first half of this book at least, to keep Erik's physical appearance and backstory accurate to Leroux's descriptions. But when Kay actually comes to the story that we all know and love she makes weird changes. I can understand Kay wanting to put her own twist on things and to make the story her own but the way that she did this was too off canon for my tastes. There are so many scenes in this book that supposedly take place in Leroux's novel but are in reality nothing like those scenes at all. For example: Leroux's novel has Carlotta croak like a toad on the same night that the chandelier falls but in Kay's Phantom the chandelier falls on a different night much later on. The unmasking scene here is nothing like the unmasking scene in Leroux's novel. By far the most cringeworthy scene in this book has to be the one where Christine first hears Erik's music for Don Juan Triumphant. The music is described as being like a sob in Leroux's novel, as the ultimate expression of grief and rage. Christine is frightened and disturbed. Here though, the music is so incredibly sexy and arousing that Christine *ahem* ends up getting herself off to it. Okaaay then... The book then proceeds to delve even further into the realms of bad fanfiction. Basically I got the very strong impression that Kay didn't like how Leroux's novel ended and decided to twist and distort the characters and events of that novel to suit her own purposes, like a lot of bad fanfiction writers do.

I love the Phantom in Leroux's novel. I think he's a fantastic character and very sympathetic. In Kay's novel I felt barely any sympathy for him at all. Also, I can't say that I was ever a massive fan of Christine in Leroux's novel (just because I never really found her all that interesting) but reading Kay's novel actually made me appreciate her a whole lot more! OK, Christine does come across as being a bit helpless in Leroux's novel but at least she has some backbone. She's independent and capable of thinking for herself and making her own decisions. She's in love with Raoul and determined to save him. In Kay's novel, Christine is completely incapable of making any decisions by herself and seems incredibly childish and bratty. I know that Christine is supposed to be naive and a very young and innocent girl from reading Leroux's novel - childlike as opposed to childish - but Kay seems to take this to mean that "Christine is stupid and mentally challenged". Er, no she isn't! Kay strips Christine of every ounce of intelligence and integrity that she has in Leroux's novel and what we have instead is an incredibly annoying character. She also has an aggravating habit of always saying exactly the wrong thing to Erik and she uses Raoul horribly. Basically she only runs off to Raoul in this book whenever Erik has done something to upset her: whether it's because he shouted at her or because she's jealous of his cat. Raoul is just some tool for Christine to punish Erik with. I felt really sorry for Raoul in this book and he must surely deserve some sort of medal for the crap that he has to put up with! Christine sleeps with Erik right before her wedding to Raoul. Not only does this remind me of the ALW musical sequel Love Never Dies it's also quite laughable when you remember that she made love to Erik when he was on his deathbed. Er, if Erik's dying then how does he manage to summon up enough energy to have sex?! Anyway, poor Raoul is forced to accept all of this, Christine takes Erik's cat to live with them and then has a son that turns out to be Erik's. So Raoul has to put up with the fact that his wife, his son and even his pet are all Erik's! How harsh is that?!

To sum up: if you're an E/C shipper who hates Raoul, loves the Phantom unconditionally, and always thought that Christine should have chosen Erik and was in love with him all along then Phantom is a must-read and you will love it. And if you're not, don't bother!

Rating: 1.5/5


Poly said...

I hate Raoul, I love the Phantom and I think Christine should have chosen Erik. But I don't like Susan Kay Phantom.

Indigo Montoya said...

Ooh, this is brilliant then! You seem like the exact sort of reader that 'Phantom' was aimed at so it really says a lot about this book's lack of quality if even you couldn't appreciate it!