When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Unmasking the Phantom of the Opera

In all fairness to Gaston Leroux, I will admit that I have been quite distracted in other parts of life while trying to make my way through this novel. That may explain some of my disappointment with the story, but certainly not all of it. Once again, I will try to keep this review relatively spoiler-free. Watching the Broadway production or the recent film production will not spoil too much of the book, as they deviated quite a bit from the source material. In fact, they told a much better, more cohesive story.

I understand that the author was trying to put together a "police report" case book, which is a clever idea on the surface of things. Sadly, it falls flat. Even though Leroux attempts to switch voices from one "witness" to another, there is very little distinction between the speakers. I very quickly lost track of who was telling their side of the story. I think it would have been better to drop the premise and give the reader a single, consistent, all-knowing storyteller.

My biggest problem with the story, however, was the same issue I had with The Invisible Man. That is, the characters were not very sympathetic. Towards the end, you get the feeling that you are meant to feel some sympathy for the Opera Ghost (he is only called a phantom once) because of his pathetic past. But then he opens his mouth or does something malicious, and he becomes a sociopath. At least we learn a little about how he came to be so wretched, unlike Griffin, but the quick-change duality makes it hard to want to understand his plight. Christine Daae and Raoul de Chagney are just as bad, as characters go. In one breath either of them is declaring their love or admiration for someone and in the next moment they are expressing fear or hatred for that same person. They are extremely childish in their actions and dialogue. In fact, I had a hard time finding any characters that consistently behaved like mature, rational adults. The story seemed populated by a bunch of children pretending to be adults. Only auxiliary characters seemed to be past adolescent immaturity, yet they did not do much to control the childish characters.

Aside from two deaths, there did not seem to be much to really terrorize the characters. I, myself, never really felt a sense of dread for anyone's safety. Perhaps it was due to the use of too much meandering detail, especially in the "torture chamber" chapters. Yes, two characters were trapped in a chamber for 2.5 chapters, which dragged on with so much wandering exposition that I must admit my own mind had a hard time focusing on their plight. There were many hints laid down about the mischief and evil deeds of which the "opera ghost" was capable, yet not much was actually committed by this phantom. If he terrorized the other characters, then I had a hard time feeling it as I read the book.

The idea of the story is a good one. It has been adapted well, especially in the Broadway production, so I will give Gaston Leroux credit for laying a decent foundation for others to build upon. Overall, that's how I see The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. Perhaps if I gave it another read when I am less distracted I can appreciate it more. For now, I will give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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