The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Fascinating book. The book answers most, if not all, of the questions listening to the musical on CD left me with.
SPOILER ALERT: WHAT FOLLOWS WILL EXPLAIN MYSTERY
The phantom, or the Opera Ghost (O. G.), is neither. He is a flesh-and-blood man who is highly skilled and grotesquely ugly. His skill with trap doors and architecture and the technology of the day helps to heighten the impression he creates, that he is a ghost. He is also skilled in singing, composition, and ventriloquism.
He lives under the opera in a house he build on the underground lake there. He is in love with Christine Daae and seeks her hand in marriage, and he does so through music and moving her to pity as well as through force and manipulation and threats. She acquiesces in order to save her true love, Raoul.
The phantom, whose name is Erik, is several times described as having a death's head, and he smells like a corpse. Several times Christine has to fight to overcome her revulsion. Erik wears a mask around her, and he wears a fake nose among other things when he's out in public. His mother apparently hated him due to his appearance, which obviously plays some into his psychological makeup.
Another man who lives quietly in the Paris Opera House is "the Persian," who rescued Erik from a Shah some time back when the Shah had Erik build him an ingenious house and torture chamber and then decided to kill Erik so that only the Shah would know its secrets. The Persian has quietly learned many of Erik's secrets in the Opera house and helps Raoul when the latter seeks to rescue Christine.
The book closes with Erik visiting the Persian some time later to inform him that he is dying. Christine allowed Erik to kiss her, maskless, on the forehead, and she kissed him back. Grateful because she showed him that one act of genuine love, he let her go to marry Raoul. Christine and Raoul have since disappeared to the north.
The author tells the story as one who has investigated the whole story of the Opera Ghost and is now reporting it as a whole for the first time. For quite a while you're led to believe that there is something supernatural in this whole affair, but gradually, explanations bring things into the realm of possibility. Carlotta's croaking on stage, for instance, was a result of Erik's perfect ventriloquism.
There are parallels with Frankenstein that would be interesting to explore. A man who is so physically deformed that no one can stand to be in his presence is turned into a monster as a result.
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