Originally published in 1909; 264 pages
The story begins with an investigation into some strange reports of an "opera ghost", legendary for making the great Paris opera performers ill-at-ease when they sit alone in their dressing rooms. Some allege to have seen the ghost in evening clothes moving about in the shadows. Nothing is done, however, until the disappearance of Christine during her triumphant performance. With an increasing pattern of fear and violence, The Phantom of the Opera begins to strike, but always with a beautiful young performer at the center of his deadly desires.
I'm going to have to say the play, or at least the Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtrack, is better than the book.
The novel was a fairly typical gothic creeper of its day. The multitalented Eric, aka the "Opera Ghost," possesses a vast array of talents, almost supernatural abilities, unlimited resources, and a convenient labyrinth of death traps and mechanical devices underneath Paris, a sort of Batman with the Joker's psychosis. It reminded me a great deal of another French novel, Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, who was of course the original Batman.
Like Dumas, Gaston Leroux is wordy and stilted (at least in translation), but he wasn't as good a writer as Dumas. His characters, from the fainting Christine to her hotheaded young suitor Raoul to the whiny, self-pitying monster Eric, are all sort of annoying, but the Opera Ghost in particular is a Heathcliff-like figure, who seems to have been romanticized and pitied in popular culture by people who either are unaware or don't care that in the original novel, he's a sociopath who abducts a woman he's infatuated with and tries to force her to marry him under threat of blowing up half of Paris.
The various tricks and schemes of the Opera Ghost are ultimately a tale of an embittered, disfigured monster, and the two young lovers trying to outmaneuver him, and while it was a compelling story, it was not very compelling writing. Worth visiting the original but it's very much a piece of serialized 19th century fiction that is actually improved by modern adaptations.
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