This book is absolutely amazing. There, I said it. I really wasn't expecting a lot from 'The Phantom of the Opera' since many critics are of the opinion that the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical made something good out of bad source material. However, having now read the book, I would strongly disagree with this, and looking at the Amazon reviews it seems that other people feel the same way.
For those who don't know 'The Phantom of the Opera' tells the story of a mysterious 'Opera Ghost' who haunts the Paris Opera and becomes obsessed with beautiful singer Christine Daae. Under the Phantom's tuition Christine's singing reaches new heights. However, Christine is also loved by Raoul the Viscount de Chagny and it soon comes to light that the Phantom is a lot more dangerous than he at first seemed.
There is a huge difference between the book and the musical; the end result is the same but the way each story gets there is completely different. The minor characters are also different and I would say perhaps more interesting in the show; Leroux focuses all his energy on the Phantom, Christine and Raoul and so the other characters do suffer. However, I don't think this affects the story at all because, presumably, these characters' parts were only enlarged because a musical with just three characters might have been a little boring. It works very well in the novel.
|Erik - 'The Phantom'|
'The Phantom of the Opera' is the first book I have read in a long time that I haven't been able to put down, and when I had to, I couldn't wait to pick it up again and find out what happened. At only 278 pages, this book never goes off on tangents - lines such as "perhaps the reader might find it useful to know how the bottom and sides of this structure had been built" had me worried that Leroux would turn the next 10 pages of the book into something Victor Hugo-esque, but it was okay, the diversion only lasted four lines.
I also appreciated Leroux's use of cliff-hangers, especially towards the end of the novel - it's a technique that's been strangely lacking in many of the books I've read recently. Lines such as "we've landed in his torture chamber" definitely added to the 'unputdownable' nature of this book.
However, some of the phrases used by Leroux were perhaps overused and I got annoyed by the way characters all too frequently "burst out laughing" at completely inappropriate moments. This may have just been a problem with translation, however, as it is possible that this is phrased a lot better in the french language. There was also repetition of Raoul being told to "[not] forget!... keep one hand up" at the level of his eyes to stop being strangled by the Phantom. Although the latter was actually quite clever as it appears that it is foreshadowing the ending which is in fact very inventive and not what I was expecting at all.
|Christine and Raoul|
Simultaneously to being a great story, 'The Phantom of the Opera' also makes you think about your perceptions of others and how what you say and do can have a lasting effect on them. Leroux cleverly takes the reader through each characters' story in a way that makes you understand and sympathise with each of them in turn; in the space of ten pages it becomes clear why the Phantom acted as he did throughout the novel and why he did what he did to Christine and Raoul.
I would recommend 'The Phantom of the Opera' to anyone, especially fans of the musical, as the book gives far more understanding of the characters and their motivations. I also liked that it was clear in the book who Christine was in love with as this is not made clear in the musical; always having thought Christine loves Raoul I was happy that it was this way in the novel. I wasn't at all keen on Raoul to begin with - he comes across as a grumpy teenager who assumes he is in love with a woman who has recently shot to fame - but he really grew on me as the book went on and by the end he was definitely my favourite character. 'Phantom' examines the shallowness of human nature and is summed up in the quotation: "If Erik [the Phantom] was handsome, Christine, would you love me?" 10/10.