Wednesday, October 30, 2013

31 Days of Books: The Phantom of the Opera

Title:  The Phantom of the Opera

Author:  Gaston Leroux

Published:  1909 - 1910 (serial)

Year I read it:  2005

One sentence summary:  Christine Daae, daughter of a deceased, though still famous, concert violinist, is just a chorus girl for the Paris Opera until one day a voice offers to train her - could the voice be her father?

Interesting fact:  Once the serialization was published as a novel it was not successful and even went out of print several times throughout the 20th century.  Notable improvement in sales followed a 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney and, of course, the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical.

Three reasons to read it:
  • This is not the musical!  Andrew Lloyd Weber produced a very nice gothic romance based on a novel, but a la Beauty and the Beast.  Nor is it a bad-boy, good boy love-triangle.  Those depictions fail to capture the book.  I will borrow another goodreads reviewer's description of the phantom's "ugliness."  "[Being ugly] is the single defining characteristic of his entire life, his entire pathology. He is so abominably ugly that no one can look on his face and maintain their composure, so repulsive that even his own mother abandoned him in horror. In the book, he is described as looking like a corpse, a skeleton with skin rotting off the bones, with a gaping hole where his nose should be, and eyes so sunken into black sockets that they're invisible except when they glitter at you out of the darkness. This is not Gerard Butler with a bit of scarring. This is a visage from your nightmares."
  • That being said - the more repulsive the horror, the more astounding the redemption. The love Christine offers him is not the romantic sense she feels for the heroic Raoul, it is the acceptance the Phantom's mother never extended.
  • I don't think people should read books just because they're "classics," but there are "iconic" moments - from film, stage, books, paintings, etc. - these moments that, well, you owe it to yourself to experience first hand.  The cavern under Opera House, the chandelier, and several memorable frights - these are legendary for a reason.

One reason you maybe shouldn't:
  • This book is one of the scarier ones I've read.  When I read it, the majority of the time I was thinking "Every adaptation on film or on stage has lied to me!  There is no way to explain ____ or ____ or _____ if he isn't actually a phantom!!"  My experience directly following my finishing of the book might also have something to do with it... but that would need it's own post. 
Great quotes:

“I am the little boy who went into the sea to rescue your scarf” 

“All I wanted was to be loved for myself."

“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.” 

"Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He asked only to be 'some one,' like everybody else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind! 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. Ah, yes, we must need pity the Opera ghost...”


  1. I was hoping you'd review this one! :) It's one of those unforgettable books, in its own special way ;)

  2. I'm now slowly working my way back through all your book reviews!

    This book is one of my favourites. Most people's introduction to POTO is the ALW musical but I actually read the book first. And although I adore the ALW musical as well - my second favourite musical ever after Les Miserables! - I prefer the book. One of the reasons for this is that in the book Erik is a ventriloquist and an illusionist and an architect but he's not a ghost. He has no supernatural powers whatsoever. And yet the ALW musical definitely hints at this. I also adore gothic literature and the book has such an eerie and haunting atmosphere. Even when Erik isn't technically on the page his presence is EVERYWHERE. I also feel that the characters are better-developed in the book, especially Christine and Raoul, and I love Erik's final scene with the Persian. It's a deeply moving scene and yet hardly any of the adaptations have it. Grr!

    Of the adaptations I love the ALW musical (the stage version only), the Charles Dance miniseries/Yeston and Kopit musical and the Big Finish audio play.