“The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.”
I am slightly kicking myself for not reading this book sooner. I will hold my hands up now and own up to saying I thought I knew this story well. Like most, I’ve seen the musical and I’ve seen the film adaptation, both of which are fantastic and I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t to watch either one – but I have to say, reading Gaston Leroux’s novel was something else entirely. It is not The Phantom of the Opera I thought I knew, but guess what? I loved it even more.
This book tells the hauntingly dark tale of a man’s love for a woman that spirals into obsessive madness and violence, and a Paris Opera house tormented by a legendary Opera Ghost. Be prepared for murder by hanging, mysterious kidnappings, cries of terror and crashing chandeliers, whilst Leroux’s words fill you with horror and suspense.
For a book published in 1909, the writing is incredibly readable and although it is hard to tell how accurate the translation from French to English is, I cannot fault it, and the writing itself for that matter. I don’t know what is about the way Leroux writes, but he has the ability of creating an almost tangible atmosphere so effortlessly, whilst cleverly weaving real locations and events from history into the story, blending fact and fiction to enhance the mystery.
Despite the horrors that occur, I honestly believe this novel has one of the most beautiful displays of unrequited love, sadness and insanity that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. And that’s saying a lot from me about a book with a love triangle, which if you don’t know I am not a fan of – but this works. Trust me; it actually works well (although Raoul if you could stop crying every time Christine says no, that would be great).
“If I am the phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so. If I am to be saved it is because your love redeems me.”
The Phantom, the Opera ghost, the Angel of Music or just Erik; whatever he is to you, whether an antihero, villain or simply a monster, he is my favourite type of character, dark, twisted and complex. In the beginning I found him charming, the musical genius that he is, but as the story progresses, charming starts to feel wrong when his deep, crazed obsession for Christine Daae comes to the surface. And he just gets overly dramatic from then onwards. But it’s understandable. What would you expect from somebody who has had to live his whole life in the shadows from the hatred and disgust from others? For then somebody he desires more than anything to reject him? All he wanted was for somebody to love him without his mask. Despite his anger and his jealousy, it’s hard to hate him, he got my pity. I found myself always looking forward to the scenes with Erik, especially when he terrorizes the Opera House and makes his demands.
“SHE IS SINGING TO-NIGHT TO BRING THE CHANDELIER DOWN!”
The structure and pacing of this novel were great. The way that the Opera ghost was introduced really builds up your intrigue and anticipation for the page when you eventually meet him and I appreciated the details of his past you find out later on. I loved the blend of horror, mystery, humour, dark romance and tragedy which made it a more enjoyable read. Unfortunately I found Raoul irritating and childish at times, as well as Christine but it didn’t bother me too much and was able to get past it. The plot and characters are vivid and complex and the writing pulls you into a captivating detective story that may just break your heart a little.
If The Phantom of the Opera is a story you know and love, but you have not read the novel by Gaston Leroux, then I urge you to forget everything you know, and to experience this story as if it were the first time. It’s truly worth it.
“He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar.”
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