Read and Review: The Phantom of the Opera

Read and Review: The Phantom of the Opera
  • Title: The Phantom of the Opera / Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
  • Author: Gaston Leroux
  • Published: 1910

My Photo [The Phantom of the Opera]

The Phantom of the Opera*, a story perhaps best known through the stage adaptation, was originally a Gothic horror novel. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is the name given to a man living secretly below the Paris Opera House. One is not entirely sure if he is man or ghost – or something much worse. He becomes captivated by the sound of Christine Daaé’s beautiful singing, develops an obsessive love for her, and kidnaps her, leading to a series of horrific events.

*I mentioned The Phantom of the Opera about a year ago on my blog, and now I’ve finally read it!

I liked reading this book; it was genuinely thrilling and had some truly scary moments, which I hadn’t anticipated because of how tame the kidnapping plot in the 2004 film adaptation is. There is palpable danger and tension throughout, due to the Phantom’s cruel and malignant hold over the Opera House.

My favourite character is – and probably always will be – Raoul simply because I liked him in the film adaptation.

In the novel however, what I enjoyed was the development of his and Christine’s romance from childhood sweethearts to adults in love. I shared in his frustration and upset that Christine was already ‘pledged’ away to the ‘Phantom’ and there was not much he could do to rescue her from this. Raoul’s helplessness as the heroic figure was especially emphasised in the torture scenes, where he and Christine are separated and suffering separately in different ways. This was a nice subversion of the “damsel in distress” convention.

Whilst on the subject of torture, I liked how Leroux unashamedly introduced taboo subjects such as death, torture, violence, and suicide because this added to the Gothic and horrific tone of the book.

Yet for me, where The Phantom of the Opera fell slightly in my esteem was its use of both a prologue and an epilogue.

I didn’t read the prologue, so as to leave the plot as mysterious as possible for myself (which worked well!). On skim-reading it in preparation for this review however, my issue with the prologue is the same as the epilogue; it ties up questions about the ‘Phantom’ instantly – who he really is, what he really is, and where he came from.

I much preferred seeing the ‘Phantom’ as a liminal figure who could be both man or ghost – once his presence is rationalised and his true self revealed, I felt this removed some of the horror*.

**It’s rather like seeing a magic trick performed behind the scenes, then watching the same trick being performed; something has been lost.

Furthermore, because of the prologue and epilogue, the book is written as if a true account by Leroux and thus there are a few passages of letter-reading and the inclusion of administrative documents, which is not the most dynamic way of introducing new information.

All in all, I much enjoyed reading The Phantom of the Opera, and it was nice to finally read the story on which many musicals and films have been based.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

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WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (7)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (7)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I have 3 novels on the go currently; Wise Children by Angela Carter, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

Last month, I was in a reading slump and hadn’t read much at all. This month has been the exact opposite!

I’ve read:

  • [re-read] Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
  • Painted by Kirsten McKenzie
  • Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  • Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  • The Teacher by Katerina Diamond
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • Thinner by Richard Bachman / Stephen King

When I get going, I think my reading average is roughly 3 books a week!

I’m working on writing and posting book reviews for most of these books; the benefit of reading a lot not only means I can cross more books off my Goodreads list but I can generate more blog content!

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

I have no idea! I’ve been reading quite an eclectic mix of books at the minute, so I could pick up absolutely anything.


– Judith

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (4)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (4)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a non-fiction, Shooting History, by Jon Snow – an autobiographical account of modern history and journalism Snow was involved in. I’ve also been sent another book to read for Rosie’s Book Review Team, Devil In The Countryside, a historical thriller by Cory Barclay. I’m also reading another free book to review – Being Simon Haines, by Tom Vaughan MacAulay.

It’s also exam-season, so as a form of revision, I’m aiming to re-read texts that will be covered in my exams. Here’s how I’ve got on so far:

2. What did you recently finish reading?

I read so much over the Easter break! I read The Seagull, a play by Anton Chekhov, as well some more Stephen King novels of course – The Shining and The Tommyknockers. I also finished the thriller Perfect People by Peter James, as well as The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. I also received a new book, Commune: Book One, to read and review for Joshua Gayou, a new author.

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

As I really enjoyed Perfect People, I want to explore the works of Peter James, and the thriller genre as whole, further. It would also be nice to read some more classic literature as well.


What are you currently reading?

– Judith

Themes in: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Themes in: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

‘Reader, I married him.’

Jane Eyre is a Victorian Gothic novel, telling the story, from a first-person perspective, of the protagonist Jane Eyre. She is left in the “care” of her aunt and cousins after the death of her parents, but is treated horribly and is eventually sent away to boarding school. She grows up to train and work as a governess for the aloof and proud Mr Rochester. Jane begins to develop romantic feelings for Rochester, but she doesn’t know he is hiding a terrible secret.

To me, the most noticeable theme in Jane Eyre is Bronte’s use of the Gothic. I studied Gothic literature at A Level – not Jane Eyre sadly – but that made it easy for me to spot Gothic conventions whilst reading it.

The Gothic

Jane is described metaphorically as an ‘elf’, ‘changeling’ and ‘fairy’, supernatural creatures which could have either good or bad connotations, depending on which myths or fairy-tales you read. Thornfield Hall, Rochester’s home, is an isolated mansion with many abandoned rooms and secret passages, the perfect place for scary and supernatural occurrences. There is also lots of powerful colour symbolism, using key Gothic colours: black, white and red. Most notably, the Red Room, in which Jane is imprisoned as a girl, has ‘crimson’ bedcovers, ‘red’ carpets and dark, mahogany furniture to haunt and remind Jane of her uncle, whose dead body was laid out in the Red Room. The room is symbolic of Jane’s suffering, entrapment and a strong reminder of the ever-presence of death.

Love

Another theme in Jane Eyre is love. I’ve heard many refer to Jane Eyre as one of the greatest love stories of all time. Whilst I disagree with this – I see Jane Eyre as primarily Gothic, not romantic – the theme of love is prevalent nonetheless. Jane desires to be genuinely loved and valued. This is perfectly justifiable, after being denied a true family, and the abuse she endured from her aunt and cousins. These desires are why she rejects St. John’s marriage proposal, because a marriage built around purpose or function would lack the love and value she longs for. Furthermore, this is why she rejects Rochester’s proposal to be his mistress: Jane is an independent and strong woman who will not let herself be devalued by being subject to a man’s whims and losing her integrity.

Slavery

The final theme I want to talk about in Jane Eyre, which I hadn’t considered before until a lecture, is slavery, in relation to the character of Bertha. Bertha is taken by Rochester from the Caribbean and kept physically imprisoned at Thornfield Hall, out of sight. This reflects how, slaves were presented during the time of the slave trade, in paintings, for example, “lurking” behind the aristocracy, ready to obey. In addition, Bertha is always described in supernatural and animalistic ways, such as ‘clothed hyena’, ‘maniac’, and ‘shaggy locks’. These descriptions are significant because she is a white creole, and so has mixed racial heritage. This imagery suggests Bertha is “other” and exotic – like a creature – simply because of her race. This parallels the racist approach white Britons had towards non-white individuals at the time.

***

Thank you for reading this blog post!

I find Jane Eyre such an enjoyable book – even if I don’t see it as a romance – and it was written by a Yorkshire woman, and it’s my Mum’s favourite book, so it has a special place in my heart, and it was a pleasure to be able to explore some of the significant aspects of the novel.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below!

– Judith

Read and Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Read and Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Author: Oscar Wilde
  • Published: 1890

The Picture of Dorian Gray is Wilde’s only novel.

Dorian Gray, a handsome young man, is worshipped by many in society, including the painter Basil Hallward. Hallward takes Gray’s portrait, and introduces him to his friend, Henry Wotton. Wotton has a powerful influence over Gray, and gradually he loses his innocence and virtuous nature. Dorian Gray express the life-changing desire that he would rather his portrait age, than him, allowing him to retain his youthfulness. His wish comes true, and Gray pursues a life of debauchery and stays beautiful, while his portrait warps and ages, recording each of Gray’s transgressions.

It took me a while to engage with The Picture of Dorian Gray; I found the first few chapters highly philosophical and “arty farty”, and so I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to finish it. Nevertheless, I pressed on, and discovered a definite turning point – from intellectual discussions about immorality, to witnessing immoralities such as murder, deceit and cruelty. For me, this is reminiscent of the Gothic genre, although The Picture of Dorian Gray is largely classified primarily as a philosophical novel.

Naturally then, the book raises themes of morality, immorality, art, philosophy, religion, youth, and vanity. I found the theme of vanity interesting, and the book’s meta-literary nature particularly highlights this; Gray seems to be aware his life is its own narrative with its own narrative conventions, and that he is “performing” a role – particularly as nobody can see his real self, which is trapped within the painting, and so his unchanging, youthful face is almost like a costume.

Gray even reads a novel ‘without plot, and with only one character… who spent his life trying to realise in the nineteenth century all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century but his own.’

This book is also described as:

‘the spiritual ecstasies of some medieval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner’.

This accurately parallels the narrative of Gray’s own life – creating a story within a story – which he later acknowledges: ‘indeed, the whole book seemed to him to contain the story of his own life’.

I also thought The Picture of Dorian Gray was particularly thought-provoking – for many readers, I think, Wilde walks a fine line between being inspirational and being offensive. To demonstrate this, here is an extract from Henry Wotton, describing women to Dorian Gray:

‘I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty, more than anything else… They love being dominated.’

I’d love to see what a modern-day feminist makes of this! Thankfully, I’m not the sort of person to be offended by this kind of talk, but I do find it interesting. Does this accurately reflect the thoughts of 19th century men? Does this represent Wilde’s own views? Is it meant to be taken as humour?

Reflecting on The Picture of Dorian Gray, I’m glad I read it, after initially being uncertain. I think it’s a fascinating book and I’d be interested in reading more about its interpretations and messages.

Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? Have any of these quotes or comments struck you? I’d be keen to read your thoughts!

Please ‘Like’ this post if you enjoyed it, and share it around too 😉

– Judith

[Read and Review] 12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #7: A Christmas Carol

[Read and Review] 12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #7: A Christmas Carol

Welcome to 12 Days of Blogmas Day 7! Today I’ve written another Christmas-themed book review.

  • Title: A Christmas Carol
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Published: 1843

A Christmas Carol is, I think, well-deserving of its fame as a Christmas classic. In case you’re not familiar with the story (although I wonder how is this is possible), A Christmas Carol is about one particularly mean old man, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is notorious for hating all things associated with Christmas, until, one December, the influence of four ghosts initiates a drastic character transformation in him.

Last year, Chris Priestley wrote ‘A Christmas Carol is more than just a story. It is a tirade against greed, selfishness and neglect. It uses the story of a rich man – the startlingly nasty Scrooge – to highlight the plight of those affected by the greed and meanness he exemplifies.’*

*Chris Priestley, Ignorance and Want: why Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is as relevant today as ever (Wednesday 23 December 2015)

For Dickens, social realism and social commentary are reoccurring themes in his work; Oliver Twist focuses on the injustice cast upon the poor (for example, Oliver) by the better-off (for example, Mr Bumble) and highlights the realities of the poor – themes such as violence and crime can be seen in the lives of Fagin, Bill and Nancy. Similarly, in Great Expectations, Pip begins life in a struggling working-class family, with limited provisions, until he is provided with the means to better his chances in life.

Therefore, Christmas seems an appropriate time for Dickens to again draw attention to the impact the “Scrooges of Society” have on others, as people tend to be more charitable, kind and willing to listen around Christmas-time than other times of year.**

**Why this is, I have no idea.

I like the length of A Christmas Carol; it’s quite short compared to some of Dickens’ other books, which makes it an easy read – ideal, if you want to start reading more classic novels but don’t know where to start.

I also liked the idea of mixing Christmas, usually a cheerful occasion, with ghosts, hauntings and a foreboding sense of impending doom. This brings out my enjoyment for Gothic literature! Naturally, then, my favourite ghosts are Jacob Marley (his entrance of groaning chains is enough to spook anyone) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I feel like these are some of the best characters drawn out in the various film adaptations too – although I’m yet to find a film adaptation that completely satisfies me.

As A Christmas Carol is such a popular story, I thought I’d scour Goodreads, to find out why readers love this book so much***:

1. Claudia said: ‘I think A Christmas Carol makes us better people.’

2. Jude said: ‘It reminds us of what is truly important in a life.’

3. Walter said: ‘It showed us how the spirit of the holidays can be humanizing.’

4. Melissa said: ‘For me, it’s not so much the story–which I enjoy every Christmas, sometimes twice – as it is the writing itself. There’s a lyrical quality that hasn’t popped out at me in his longer stories.’

5. Diane said: ‘I think we love this story partly because of how well Dickens portrayed Scrooge as a complex, multi-layered character. Sure, he appears as a greedy stereotype at first, but then we are shown his backstory and how he became that way, and (gasp), suddenly we realize that any of us could become rapacious and bitter if we chose to go down that road. And that’s what raises this tale to a classic–its universality. We are also made to care so deeply about Tiny Tim & his family, who choose to be generous even through their own want, because they realize they will become like Scrooge if they don’t.’

*** If you want to see other readers’ responses, you can find the forum I used here:

Do you like A Christmas Carol?**** Why, or why not? Also, do you have a favourite film adaptation? I’m interested to hear your opinions.

**** If you like audio books, you might be interested to learn that A Christmas Carol, narrated with  Sir Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Cranham, Miriam Margolyes, Jenna Coleman, Brendan Coyle, and Roger Allam is currently available for free on Audible until January 2017! Download it here:

If you enjoyed this post, please click ‘Like’ and stay tuned for my next Blogmas post!

– Judith

12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #1: Christmas Cracker Book Tag

12 Days of Blogmas 2016 Day #1: Christmas Cracker Book Tag

Happy Blogmas! This is Day 1 of my 12 Days of Blogmas.

I decided I didn’t want to blog every single day of December because I was worried I wouldn’t get posts written in time so instead, I’ve chosen to blog continuously in the 12 days running up to Christmas.

December is essentially the month of Christmas, so what better book tag to do than a festive themed one? I found the Christmas Cracker Book Tag on Pretty Book’s blog and thought it looked fun.

Let’s get cracking (see what I did there?)!

1. Pick a book with a wintry cover

Although I don’t own this copy, I saw this beautiful cover of A Christmas Carol in Waterstones. I don’t buy books just for their covers though – as much as the idea of having shelves full of stunning books appeals to me, I just don’t have the money for that. You can find A Christmas Carol in Waterstones here:

my-photo-a-christmas-carol

2. Pick a book you’re likely to buy as a present

This really depends on who I’d be buying for. I’d be more likely to buy someone a book I know they love but their own copy has seen better days and they’re in need of a new one, or perhaps they never had a copy anyway.  For my mum*, I’d probably get her a pretty copy of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847), which I know is one of her favourite books. For my dad*, I’d probably get him something The Phantom of the Opera themed (Gaston Leroux, 1910) because he really likes the musical.

* Mum and Dad, if you’re reading this, these answers are hypothetical only 😛

3. Pick a festive themed book

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843), obviously. If I had to choose more childhood classics, I’d pick A Nightmare Before Christmas (2007), a beautiful book by Tim Burton, based on the 1993 film of the same name.

4. Pick a book you can curl up with by the fireplace

I do this with almost every book! My favourite books to curl up with are lengthy novels I can savour for longest. For length, I’d say Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869) but I don’t think I’ll ever read it again! My next instinct is probably Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007) because it’s sufficiently chunky, and is one of my favourite Harry Potter books.

5. Pick a book you want to read over the festive period

I have so many I want to read! I want to finish all the fiction books on my “currently reading” list – I measure this by how many books are on my bedside table – which are It by Stephen King (1986), The Rover by Aphra Behn (1677) and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890).

6. Pick a book so good it gives you chills

I feel like I’m repeating myself when it comes to talking about favourite books (!). I would say Sharp Objects (2006) by Gillian Flynn (I regularly cycle through her novels and love them every time) or anything written by Stephen King.

7. Pick a book going on your Christmas wishlist

I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to ask for any more books for Christmas, as I already have plenty I still haven’t got around to reading yet! However, I want to read more of C.S. Lewis’ books, and I want to collect and read more Stephen King (once I finish It, I plan on reading 11.22.63). I also want to read and watch some more Shakespeare. As you can see, I’ve made a lot of plans, but it’s finding time to carry out these plans that’s the issue!


Have you read any of the books on my list? If you enjoyed this post, please click ‘Like’ or leave a lovely comment below.

I haven’t tagged people to do book tags in ages, so I’m going to tag 5 bloggers to do the Christmas Cracker Book Tag too. They are:

  1. Cait @ bathtimereads.wordpress.com
  2. Vicki @ vickgoodwin.wordpress.com
  3. Sophie @ purrpale.wordpress.com
  4. Sasha @ downthereadingholeblog.wordpress.com
  5. Inspired Teen @ lifeofaninspiredteen.wordpress.com

Happy Blogmas!

– Judith