Allow me to begin my response to this book by stating that I am not a fan of the original novel, The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux. I do enjoy the 1925 film adaptation starring the legendary Lon Cheney, and I also enjoy the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation. However, the original novel simply failed to weave the kind of magic that it somehow inspired in its wake. After I read the Leroux original, I was left sorely disappointed, and researched what other forms the story had taken as its adaptations were more interesting for me.
I came across the highly acclaimed Phantom — and in fact even bought a copy of the book — years ago. It sat on my “to read” shelf untouched (thanks to my distaste for the Leroux novel) until last month, when I finally selected it. I was not in the slightest bit disappointed. In fact, I was quite thoroughly sucked in.
Susan Kay does a phenomenal job in keeping true to the bare bones information provided in the Leroux original work; however, she takes great pains to explain in detail how Erik came to be the way that he is in the Leroux novel, with so many innumerable skills, such eloquence and genteel behavior coupled with a murderous streak and foul temper. It isn’t just Erik who receives this in-depth and story-driven psychological analysis, but each of the main characters in turn. After reading Leroux’s novel, even Erik himself puzzled and irritated me, and Christine and Raoul just seemed entirely too childish for me to ever enjoy. However, during the course of Kay’s novel, every character is so well treated that I daresay I appreciate the entire cast much more.
The novel is written entirely in the first person perspective. It outlines eras of Erik’s life in terms of who is most influential during each period of time, beginning of course with his mother, Madeleine. These influential people are, in turn, the chosen narrators for those years of his life. The only point in the novel where there is a constant switching of perspective is during the time that Christine and Erik meet and interact; Christine’s portions are written as diary entries, whereas Erik narrates directly. Christine is, in fact, the only character who narrates indirectly. The dynamic of their interactions written in this back-and-forth diary/narration manner works surprisingly well. I’d been dubious upon reading the first few exchanges, but as with the rest of the novel it presents the story in a very keen light. The differences in interpretation between what Christine perceives and what Erik perceives helps to better explain the dramatic events of Leroux’s work.
I will not reveal any spoilers, but the ending is really quite something to read. I would highly recommend this to any fan of The Phantom of the Opera — and in fact, to anyone else simply looking for a good piece of literature. This book has shot up into the realm of my favorite novels.