Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The angel of music, 5 Aug 2008
This review is from: The Phantom of the Opera (Collector's Library) (Hardcover)
The mask, the music, the dark mysteries, and the tortured, deformed genius who just wants love. "The Phantom of the Opera" is so well known that its story needs no explanation.

But Gaston Leroux's novel is still a spellbinding experience, full of atmospheric horror, a sense of gothic mystery, and lushly evocative language. But its crown jewel is Erik: a magnificently tortured anti-hero who inspires more horror, pity and sympathy than the rather flat hero and heroine.

The Paris opera house is said to be haunted by a ghost with a "death's head," who demands a small salary and a reserved box. Despite the sightings and fears of ballerinas and stagehands, the new managers are determined to stamp out this ridiculous story -- despite threatening letters and increasing accidents that happen around them.

Meanwhile, budding diva Christine Daae is taking Paris by storm, although nobody quite knows who taught her how to sing. And when her childhood friend Viscount Raoul de Chagny pays her a visit, he hears a passionate exchange between her and a man -- but there's no man there. She credits her new vocal abilities to the Angel of Music, but of course, that self-same Angel is the opera ghost.

As the Phantom becomes even more attached to Christine, Raoul soon finds that the ghost is actually a half-mad, horribly deformed musical genius named Erik -- and that after Christine saw his true face, he made her become engaged to him. The young lovers plan to run away together, but the "Angel of Music" isn't about to allow his beloved Christine to leave him...

Apparently there actually were some odd events -- including rumours of an opera ghost -- happening when Gaston Leroux began writing "The Phantom of the Opera." And it's a credit to his imgination that he was able to spin a some odd facts into a harrowing, heartbreaking love triangle that's based on music, obsession, adoration, and a bit of pity. And, of course, a frighteningly sympathetic "villain."

Admittedly the style is very "penny dreadful": melodramatic and overloaded on prose. But Leroux's talent shines through -- he drapes the book in a haunted atmosphere, full of snowy graveyards, dark opera backstages and underground labyrinths, all with Erik's presence hovering over it. The plot is mostly a slow, satiny procession toward the inevitable blowup, but Leroux does tinge it with scenes of romantic drama, a feeling of dread, one shocking action scene, and even some quirky humour at times.

And Leroux's writing is simply astounding as he describes the corpselike appearance of Erik ("... tore his terrible dead flesh with my nails") and his "death's" head appearance at the party. But he also excels at the more poignant moments -- Erik's final, rambling monologue to Christine after she kisses him is heartbreakingly clumsy and saddening.

Though Christine and Raoul are the hero and heroine of the book, they're actually kind of flat. Erik is the real star -- an arrogant genius who is also pitifully lonely. And insane. Despite his crazed behavior -- which results in at least two deaths -- it's hard not to feel sympathy for someone cursed with such a ghastly appearance, and so starved for human contact that a single kiss changes his life ("... he tried to catch my eye, like a dog sitting by its master").

Despite being a bit overblown in the style of its time, "The Phantom of the Opera" is a triumph of atmosphere, horror, and one of the most memorably sympathetic "villains" that you can find on the shelves. Magnificent.
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