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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux, Alexander Teixeira de Mattos “No more talk of darkness. Forget these wide-eyed fears. I'm here, nothing can harm you. My words will warm you and calm you...”

OK OK, I won't go there, no Andrew Lloyd Wibbly in this review. The Phantom of the Opera seems to have joined the rank of books that few people bother to read because too many people assume they already know the entire story. There is a lot more to the novel than a crazy guy with half a mask abducting a girl just to give her some free singing lessons. I mean who does that?

Interestingly in this English translation of Gaston Leroux’s novel by Alexander Teixeiros de Mattos the character commonly known in popular media as The Phantom is never called that in the book. He is more commonly referred to as the Opera Ghost, the Angel of Music and Erik. He even signs his letters O.G. The word phantom seldom appears in the book, and never as a reference to Erik. I cannot speak for the original French version of course. Unfortunately, this precludes anybody referring to him as The Phantom Menace* when he is being particularly destructive.

As you would expect the most interesting character in the book is the Opera Ghost himself. I suspect Erik may be the prototype for the fictional psychopathic geniuses like Hannibal Lector. His wide range of abilities makes him almost superhuman: brilliant singer, genius architect, magician, ventriloquist, weapon expert etc.

“You must not think, Raoul, that he is simply a man who amuses himself by living underground. He does things that no other man could do; he knows things which nobody in the world knows.”

The most enjoyable aspect of the book for me is Erik popping up unseen all over the place in the Paris Opera, thanks to his stealth and the numerous secret passages that he created. He often seems like an omnipotent supernatural creature. His subterranean lair is an eerie creation and very atmospheric. The intensity of his madness is also awesome.

The other characters are somewhat less successfully developed. Christine Daaé is too good to be believable, her lover Vicomte Raoul de Chagny comes across like an impassioned idiot most of the time. In spite of his zombie-face and pizza-like complexion, Erik seems a much better prospect than whiny Raoul. The only interesting secondary character is a mysterious man called The Persian who knows more about Erik than anybody else.

Erik’s only foible is his love for Christine Daaé which causes a lot of grief for all parties concerned. Erik’s ugliness is off the scale, with a face not even a mother could love, so of course what he wants most in the would is to be loved. The Phantom of the Opera is – as you would expect – a story of an unrequited and obsessive love. It is also a story of extreme loneliness and madness.

I had a really good time reading/listening to the book (hopping back and forth between audiobook** and e-book as appropriate). If you are looking for a book to read during Halloween and don’t want to spend any money The Phantom of the Opera is just the thing.
* Can't put in Whovian reference, may as well do Star Wars.

**Free audiobook from Librivox (of course) nicely read by Ralph Snelson. Thank you!