This book is something. I have never read anything quite like this before. Horror, humour, crime, romance, action thriller, music and opera all rolled into one.
Throughout my growing up years, I have heard of The Phantom of the Opera but I have never watch the play nor the movie but I have listened to and love every song on Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical soundtrack of the same name.
So imagine my surprise when I read this book …..!
What is it:
The book is narrated in the form of a police investigation report. For years there have been rumours of a ghost haunting the Paris Opera House. Any mishaps, any supernatural happenings are attributed to the ghost who lives beneath the Paris Opera House – one that threatens and wreck havoc if anything displeases it. When the new directors, Messrs Armand Moncharmin and Firmin Richard, replaced the previous who gave up trying to make peace with the ghost. How do you deal with a ghost who blackmail and demand 20,000 Francs per month to be paid out to him? Not only that every evening box 5 on the grand tier has to be emptied and allocated to the ghost. Moncharmin and Richard laughed of course, who could believe such a ridiculous demand? from a ghost?! “If you want peace, start by not denying my box (of money)!” It was to be a fatal mistake made by ignoring the ghost’s demands…..
The ghost is a nonetheless the faceless phantom, who fell in love with Christine Daaé. Tortured by the unrequited love for Christine (for Christine is in love with Raoul, the Viscount de Chagny), the phantom has been awaiting a chance to strike and take its revenge on the world. Will the phantom claim its prey? or will Christine see beyond its hideous appearance and learn to love the phantom?
Why I read it:
It’s becoming rather absurd to listen to the musical soundtrack again and again when I was younger and hear so much about the long running musicals at west end London and not knowing what it was all about.
What I thought:
This book is full of surprises, here’s why:
- Christine Daaé is actually a Scandinavian, a Swedish to be exact. She is blonde.
- I have no idea that the phantom is so cheeky and there is dark humour in this book
- I didn’t know this story is a thriller. I was flipping the pages quicker than I could catch my train.
- I have no idea the phantom is so talented. He is a builder, a ventriloquist, an illusionist, an opera coach and singer, an organ player and a composer, a master of traps. Is there anything that he can’t do? Born in this century he will be so famous. Who cares if he is hideous? Can’t you people out there see how beautiful his talents are?!!
- There is a Persian, who is very helpful.
I live in every moment when the phantom’s sings, when the phantom cries tears of pain and sorrow. How mesmerising, how perverse his obsession with Christine. How torn Christine is. There is so much love and passion, and also so much hate. Beat Wuthering Heights hands down which I don’t like (sorry Wuthering Heights fans). How much Raoul is willing to sacrifice his life to prove that his love to Christine.
Did Christine really love the phantom? By the way, the phantom has a name, Erick. Can she love someone who kill at whim? Does she kiss Erick just to fob him off or does she genuinely loves him?
I can’t help feeling sorry for the phantom. Outcast by the society, the phantom decided to live his days underground until his unrestrained desire to have Christine, a part of the overground, to become a part of his world. He deploys his ingenuous tricks to become this disembodied voice that teaches Christine to sing. How gullible and naive Christine is!
If there is one complaint. I don’t like to be told and with plot spoiler at the beginning of the chapter headers such as “in which Christine will be abducted”. I was a little perplex by the ending. I am not sure why everybody did what they did and why the book has to end in such unending way. Perhaps to create a sense of unsettling ending? As in the phantom lives on… and he is amongst you….. boo……!
Never in his life had Raoul heard a voice combining in one breath such extremes, a voice at once immensely, heroically sweet and triumphantly insidious, subtly powerful and powerfully subtle, in short a voice of irresistible potency. There was, in that singing, something definitive and masterful that must, in itself, inspire every moral who appreciates, loves and makes music. It was a tranquil and pure fountain of harmony from which the faithful could safely and piously assuage their thirst, secure in the knowledge that they were partaking of musical grace. Having touched the Divine, their art was transfigured. – page 134
Getting the final word in:
As I said this book embodied all genre of Horror, humour, crime, romance, action thriller, music and opera all rolled into one, yet came out so beautifully diverse and wonderful. Only a feat a genius could pull it off. I had fun reading this classic. I have never read a classic that I could flip the pages so quickly. I am haunted by the phantom’s unrequited love. A part of me feel very sorry for him. It is a rather strange reading experience but one that is entertaining and makes a strong impression in the heart and soul. I can see why it became such a classic that withstand the test of time. The story makes a very good stage play. I’m going out to buy my own copy and rent the movie DVD.
Have you read this book? Have you watch the play? What do you think? Do you empathise with the phantom?
Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Red 2009, originally published in 1909; Length: 357 pages; Setting: Paris, France. Source: Westminster Library copy. Finished reading on the 14 October 2012. Beautifully translated from French with lots of exclamation marks by Mireille Ribière.
About the writer:
Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux was born in Paris in 1868. He went to school in Normandy and studied law in Paris, graduating in 1889. He inherited millions of francs and lived wildly until he nearly reached bankruptcy. Subsequently in 1890, he began working as a court reporter and theater critic for L’Écho de Paris. His most important journalism came when he began working as an international correspondent for the Paris newspaper Le Matin. In 1905, he was present at, and covered, the Russian Revolution.
He suddenly left journalism in 1907, and began writing fiction. In 1909, he and Arthur Bernède formed their own film company, Société des Cinéromans to publish novels simultaneously and turn them into films. He first wrote a mystery novel entitled Le mystère de la chambre jaune (1908; The Mystery of the Yellow Room), starring the amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille. Leroux’s contribution to French detective fiction is considered a parallel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s in the United Kingdom and Edgar Allan Poe’s in the United States.
The Phantom of the Opera (1909-10) is Leroux’s best-known novel in the English-speaking world. since the resounding success of the 1925 silent film version there have been numerous other film and stage adaptations, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical.