Friday, March 2, 2007

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera is my favorite musical ever, and that's saying a lot, considering how much I love musicals. I saw the Broadway Series South performance a few years ago in Raleigh, I dragged Chris to the movie when it came out, and I immediately bought the DVD when it was released. So I was excited to pick up the book at the library and experience the original. I'll leave out a plot summary for this one, just because I assume most people probably know it.

The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.

+ Framing I love that Leroux writes as a historian. He writes as if this really happened, and it's his job to investigate the events of the opera house. It just makes things more interesting and gives a more exciting feel to the story.

+ Rich Characters The characters in this story are crazy. Someone is always doing something crazy or saying something crazy or being crazy in general. There are a few characters in the book that never appear in the play or movie. One -- the Persian -- is a major character and greatly alters the plot line. The rest are minor characters coming and going through the story. Leroux delves far deeper into the personalities of the main characters -- Christine, the Phantom (whose name is Erik in the book), and Raoul. The backgrounds of the characters are explained in more detail, giving the reader insight to why they act as they do. As much as I love musicals, they are frustrating in the fact that they never seem to be able to get everything across -- you're always missing something in the plot or dialogue or character development. None of those things are missing in the book. The ending was phenomenal; we finally found out about Erik's past.

+ A Whole New World Please, no Disney renditions. What I mean is, the opera house creates an entirely separate world for the reader. There is no Paris or even a France. There is simply the Opera house. The labyrinth wrapping the opera and the colorful characters -- like the rat-catcher or the door-closers -- running to and fro creates a special reality that belongs only in the Opera house. Just like the Harry Potter series or the Lord of the Rings trilogy, reading The Phantom of the Opera is like retreating into a whole new world.

+ A Great Story The most important thing for me when I'm reading a book is plot line. I want stuff to happen. I don't care about long descriptions or uneventful narrative. I just want a good story. That's what Phantom is. I guess that's why it's a classic.

Overall: A

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