Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Title: The Phantom of the Opera
Author: Gaston Leroux
ISBN: 0140621741
Publisher: Penguin Popular Classics
No. of pages: 270
Rating: 6/10

Synopsis (from back of book):
As Monsiers Richard and Moncharmin prepare to take over as acting managers of the Opera House, they discover their predecessors have bequeathed them the "Opera Ghost". A seperate memorandum-book has been set aside for his various whims, including extravagant financial needs. Heedless of the numerous warnings to comply with these strange demands, the managers shrug it all off as a practical joke taken too far. Then a sequence of eerie coincidences and tragic events follow, culminating in the sudden disappearance of the beautiful prima donna Christine Daae in mid-performance.

Tortured by the pangs of unrequited love, the mysterious figure living beneath the Opera Hose has been awaiting his chance to strike - and once he does, he is deadly...

Somehow I was expecting a little more from this novel, having seen several film adaptations (including the very famous musical), none of which have been completely true to the original story (although some have been closer than others).

At the start, it is presented almost in the style of a factual report, with the author relating events allegedly as told to him by those who were there, gathering information from various sources, including diaries, letters and anecdotal evidence, and indeed, parts of it are based on fact (the Opéra de Paris, for example, does exist as described, as does the subterranean lake; and on one tragic occasion, one of the counterweights for the magnificent chandelier fell, killing one), but the flights of fantasy as the story develops becomes wilder and wilder.

The Phantom himself is presented as a tragic-comic figure. His despair and loneliness inspire pity, but many of his escapades (such as the "joke" with the money) make him seem faintly ridiculous. There's also the psychotic nature which is, apparently, completely due to his being hideously ugly, which seems just a trifle far-fetched. As does Christine's relationship with him - one of attraction/repulsion - as there are several occasions where one cannot honestly be expected that any woman, no matter how gullible, would let herself be entrapped in such a way when there is very clearly more than one way out.

Ultimately, though, the opulent splendour of the tale and its setting redeems it and lifts it out of the murky depths. There are moments of absolute genius (mostly the descriptions of the Opéra de Paris) which make this a very worthwhile novel to read and one that perhaps should be read by anyone who loves a Gothic touch.


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