The Phantom of the Opera, a story perhaps best known through the stage adaptation, was originally a Gothic horror novel by Gaston Leroux. ‘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 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.