Review: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera
Gaston Leroux

Harper Perennial (1911)
360 pages
Classic / Mystery / Drama

Purchase it from Amazon here

My first exposure to The Phantom of the Opera was through the stage musical when I was in junior high.  It was big and loud and bombastic.  I loved the music and have listened to the original Broadway cast recording countless of times since then.  I didn’t, however, remember much of the plot.  There was a dude with a mask… was he magic or was he human?  Did this all end badly for everyone or was there a happy ending?  I honestly couldn’t remember, so I still felt like I was going on a twisty, turn-y ride by listening to the source material by Gaston Leroux.  Though I did constantly wait for them to break out into song.

I think most would be familiar with the basic idea behind The Phantom of the Opera, either through exposure to the musical, the 2004 movie adaptation with Gerard Butler or through general cultural osmosis.  There’s this disfigured guy who wears a mask and lives under the Paris opera house, obsessing over a rising star who he has taken under his wing to train as a singer.  Disfigured guy gets posessive, steals rising star away, rising star’s boyfriend gets involved, they all break out into song, and things get messy.  All the while the managers and staff of the opera house believe they’re being haunted by a mischievous and violent ghost, which is really the disfigured guy.

Four elements of the book version surprised me:  It’s told in the form of a case study of a journalist researching the mysterious happenings at the opera house many decades later.  Christine – the previously mentioned rising star – and her obsessive (and drama queen) boyfriend Raul are only around 18.  All the men in this story cry a lot.  And most surprisingly the “Opera Ghost” (otherwise known as Eric) gets a full and complete background story. 

By framing the story as a case study or research project, it became difficult to fully immerse myself into the story initially.  The method worked very well as the author could tell disconnected bits of information and leave holes in the story for the sake of mystery without it seeming like bad storytelling (he just didn't find something in his research to fill that particular hole).  Despite this structure there are chapters of content told as the recollections of one character or another, and those sections read like a normal story without the interruption of an outside narrator.

I really enjoyed hearing about Eric’s back story and how he was able to do the things that he does.  He’s much more malicious in the book than I remember him being in the musical, but then again, this version of Raul is such a wuss that it just makes everything look worse.  Eric turned out to be an incredibly complex character that definitely fell into a shade of gray.  All the other characters remained pretty flat, mostly being reactionary to Eric’s actions rather than doing something of their own initiative.  This should have bothered me, but it didn’t.  Eric is such a fascinating character and causes such odd interactions amongst the rest of the cast that it didn’t matter to me that Christine was just the love interest or that Raul was the biggest drama queen in France.

I think I automatically give a lot of leeway to the characters in classic stories because at the time of their writing, overly emotional, drama queen men might have actually been a standard personality.  If this were a contemporary title, I probably would have dropped out early on.  Between Raul crying, Eric crying, the new managers fretting like old ladies, a bunch of side characters, both male and female, falling into fits of hysterics and Christine whining and making no real sense with her decision making, I should have hated this book.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where one character cries and faints so often as Raul.  He rightfully should carry the title of prima donna, not Christine.

Can you tell I had a bit of an issue with Raul?  I know he was young and everything, but my two-year-old nephew doesn’t cry as much or throw as many fits as that guy does in this book.

Despite it all, I wasn’t bothered.  The story had so many twists and turns that I spent my time trying to figure out the mechanics of the mysteries, not bothered with the emo-tastic Raul and his flighty Christine.   I was too busy pondering how the money disappeared from the manager’s pocket without anyone seeing it when he was looked in his office or how Eric was taunting everyone as a disembodied voice.  The best part is that, in the end, the book explains all the things I pondered in a way that made sense and fit well within the story. 

This is the point where I start to gripe about the audiobook narrator and how I was distracted and blah de blah blah.  Except I’m not going to say that because the narrator of this version of The Phantom of the Opera was fantastic.  He did different voices for all the characters that easily made them distinguishable, he had inflictions in his voice that fit well with the pacing of the story and he made things frightening when they should be scary.  Above all, he sounded exasperated with the silliness of the characters at all the points I was getting exasperated!

Though to be completely honest, he wins just for his portrayal of Eric.  Through his voice alone the narrator made Eric creepy and sympathetic at the same time.  I think I might have gotten chills at one point.  Thank you, Alexander Adams, please narrate all my audiobooks.

The Phantom of the Opera turned out to be a very fun listen for my commutes.  I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if I had to read it as all the French names probably would have given my brain a fit.  With such an engaging and talented reader, this is definitely my favorite audiobook that I’ve listened to so far.

 

B

Classic story that is familiar yet still manages to surprise; a lot of not-so-manly crying; a bad guy painted in shades of gray; unusual story telling choices that work well with the concept

 

I got this audiobook from my local library and plan on returning it to them at some point.  Probably when I finish Robopocalypse.

This review fulfills a piece of my League of Extraordinary Gentlemen challenge