As Monsieurs Richard and Moncharmin prepare to take over as acting managers of the Opera House, they discover their predecessors have bequeathed them the ‘Opera Ghost’. A separate memorandum book has been set aside for his various whims, including extravagant financial needs. heedless of the numerous warnings to comply with these strange demands the managers shrug it off as a practical joke too far. Then a sequence of eerie coincidences and tragic events follow, culminating in the disappearance of the beautiful prima donna Christine Daaé in mid performance.
Having seen various film adaptations, I wasn’t sure whether the book would be able to add something new to my experience of Phantom. I am happy to report that the original source material is a great read, adding more back story and containing murder, madness, music, money, masques – and other things beginning with ‘M’ as well as other letters – aplenty
The overwhelming best part of the book for me is the setting. The innards of the opera house is a world in itself, with hellish fires and secret nooks hidden in the labyrinthine passages. It is a wonderful setting for the tragedy, Dark, claustrophobic and dangerous in the cellars and dramatic, solitary and open to the heavens on the roof, this secret world has some wonderful visuals and really fires the imagination.
It is a well realised setting full of mystery (including one that is never cleared up), which always allows for new stories to be created by the imaginative reader. This wonderfully thrilling Opera House is populated by lots of secretive and half glimpsed peoples, where chance meetings can be a terror in themselves.
The tale itself is one of those that is ingrained into society’s imagination whether you have any experience of the book or not and so I need not dwell on the storyline too much, suffice to say that this doomed love triangle is only part of the whole.
The narrative is set in the style of a historian chronicling events past that are littered with accounts and letters from some of the main players, it is a style that suits the story, allowing the reader to enjoy the story of the blackmailed managers as well the internal politics of the opera singers jockeying for position, as well as the Phantom’s obsessions.
No review would be complete without a look at the mercurial madman himself, his grotesque whims and sorry history are enough to provoke sympathy with the reader, yet his uncontrolled rage and murderous impulses are abhorrent and left this reader unsure of where my sympathies lay. If pushed there is perhaps something in all of us that resembles the Phantom and therein lies the true horror of the novel.
If anything more was needed to add to the atmosphere of tension, there is the appearance of an Enigmatic character called the Persian who adds a feeling of the exotic and keeps me pondering on the mysteries of the book that I am yet to manufacture. That is the inherent beauty of the book, the fuelling of the imagination in such a fantastic environment.
As with any story set in a location with a stage, the melodramatic is always present. From the proclamations of love to the tortured souls, there is passion and feeling, that makes the characters all the more human especially the Phantom himself. I did feel I was entering a living world as opposed to something that began and ended with my experience.
Like many of the Gothic books, this one tends to swing between horror and campness, mercifully the latter isn’t as pronounced in this story. It’s also shorter than I expected at only 270 pages but the story does move along at a brisk pace and provides something to please all tastes and will most likely be read in a few days at most.