11 May 2013

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

So you've seen the stage production and the film of this horror/romance (starring Gerard Butler, of course, though there are loads of them), but what about the book? Will it be as heart-wrenching, as terrifying or as poignant?

Well, the short answer is no, but not for lack of trying. The main reason why is that we never get the point of view of the main characters; the Phantom, Christine and Raoul. The book is set out like a history, the author directly sets out some facts and piques our interest by telling us about the disappearance of Christine Daae, the strange story of the opera ghost and the death of the Count de Chagny (not to be confused with the Viscount de Chagny, Raoul). The rest of the book comprises of diary fragments and writing from two or three other characters, not unlike Dracula, which is also comprised of diary entries and records of the events. Maybe that was how you wrote horror stories in the late 1800s/early 1900s, but it is not to everyones taste.

However, the book has some very good points. The first is that the mystery of the entire book is kept till right at the end.. what really did happen the night of Christine's disappearance? If you've never seen the film/ stage versions, you won't be disappointed. If you have, keep reading anyway, there are many changes that will keep you guessing. The shadowy Persian, for example, is a character that really stands out. He was new to me, but his history with the Phantom and his narrative were both extremely interesting. It really makes you realise the type of person the Phantom really is, as we see many sides to him.

There was one more thing that made the book lose more effect; the Phantom has a name. Now, everyone deserves a name, and the Phantom has acquired one; Erik. This now makes him a little too human to be the monster described by the Persian. He loses his mystery, and the strange charm in not knowing who exactly they are. A name gives someone attributes, a personality. The name Erik, for example, is Norse for Eternal Ruler. While this is extremely apt for the character, it gives away some idea of who he is. In the film/musical, we do not know the man at all, and can only judge him on his words and actions.

The book builds beautifully into a pacy finish, complete with torture chambers and a plot to blow up the opera house. A tiny let-down was the conclusion, but it is a let down in every version. At one point you think, how on earth will this end up happy? The way this is implemented seems, at least to me, like a bit of a cop-out. However, it does show humanity in the Phantom again, showing there are many sides to a monster, rather reminiscent of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. At least the book ties up all the loose ends well. It answers every question you could have though of, which is something the film does not do. How does the Phantom's voice seem right close to your ear, yet nothing is there? You will find out!

All the best loved elements of the Phantom story are here; the fallen chandelier, the death of a man by the Punjab lasso, the underground lake where the Phantom lives, the secret tunnels of the opera house, the secret engagement of the two young lovers, the loss of the Prima Donna's voice.. I was very happy to see that all of these were original ideas from the book.

Although the style of the book is dated (it was originally published in 1909 after all), it still manages to pack a punch and is a very good read. This is, however, one of those rare books where the film is actually better.
It's a 7 out of 10.

Image from Wordpress

You can find 'The Phantom of the Opera' for free on Kindle.

To redirect to my post on the film version starring Gerard Butler, please click here.