The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux
Signet Classics Centennial Edition
Back cover synopsis:
Filled with the spectacle of the Paris Opera House in the nineteenth century, this classic work of suspense remains a riveting journey into the dark regions of the human heart. The tale begins as an investigation into the strange stories of an "Opera ghost," legendary for scaring performers as they sit alone in their dressing rooms or walk along the building's labyrinthine corridors. Some even think they've seen the ghost in evening clothes moving in the shadows. But it isn't until the triumphant performance of beautiful soprano Christine Daaé that the Phantom begins his attacks--striking terror in the hearts of everyone in the theater. A story that has captured the imagination for a century, The Phantom of the Opera continues to this day to be an unparalleled work of sheer entertainment.
I've always liked Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical based on this story, and with that and the many other film adaptations and pop cultural references to Leroux's classic, I have for some time wanted to read and get to know the original work. That opportunity came earlier this spring when a friend and fellow Phantom fan spotted the book and bought me a copy (thanks again!), and until I finally started reading in May I was quite anxious to dig into it.
My first impression was that this was certainly not Webber's musical. Actually, as I went along I found that the book continually put the play to great shame. It was fun to read a few certain scenes that had been adapted for the musical and piece them together, but the most exciting aspect of the read was to finally get the background of so many of the characters--including lovers Raoul and Christine. In the play, there isn't much information given about anyone, really, which leaves a lot of unanswered questions that are cleared up in the novel. I especially appreciated learning Raoul's history, and the circumstances under which he and Christine met as children. We are given details surrounding both characters' families and origins, and for me as a fan, that's perhaps the most useful thing about this book.
In addition to his character development, Gaston Leroux is a master of setting and suspense. It's not merely in his descriptions of things; it's in the natural flow and style of his storytelling. I could see and feel everything quite vividly as I read, which was especially effective on the nights I found myself up late in the only lit room of the house. By the end of the first chapter, I had already felt the shadows and learned to fear the Phantom; and Chapter Twenty was just plain freaky. Whenever the characters are trapped, so is the reader; and whenever they are freed, what a relief it is!
Unfortunately, things do slow down in the middle of the book, and it was difficult for me to push through it. The constant back and forth between Raoul and Christine becomes tiring, and even their complicated triangle with the Phantom gets old. The author does a fine job of developing his characters, but with every page I found myself hating the two lovers more and more. Raoul to me is nothing more than a whiner, and by the end of the book I don't even consider him the "hero" anymore (that honor goes to my favorite character, whose very appearance is mysterious at first so I won't reveal here who it is). And even though I typically enjoy reading about psychologically disturbed characters, Christine doesn't do it for me and all I can say for her is that she needs some serious help.
Speaking of disturbed, I thought Leroux did happen to create an incredible antagonist--the Opera ghost himself. As with the other characters, we learn the Phantom's history (easily the most interesting of any of the histories given in this book), and suddenly everything just seems to fall together. In the final chapters--when things pick up again--I dare say the Phantom even closely resembles someone: Heath Ledger's Joker. Seriously, for every Phantom dialogue, I gave him the Joker's voice, and it fit perfectly. Try it! If you're a Batman fan, you owe it to yourself to read at least the last few chapters of The Phantom of the Opera; it feels very much like a scene from The Dark Knight.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read. Aside from Raoul and Christine, all of the characters were awesome (I love a story with a great supporting cast), and the scenery was unforgettable. Though the middle of the story can be somewhat tedious, the beginning and the end are quite exciting, and well worth a look. For fans of the musical I would definitely recommend this book, as well as for writers exploring suspense. Batman fans would also benefit from reading at least the last few chapters, as I said before (I think Chapter Eighteen would be a decent place to start if that's what you do, but stick with it; all I can say is you'll know it when you see it).