Mini classic review: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster.

“If I am the phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so. If I am to be saved it is because your love redeems me.”

Prior to reading The Phantom of the Opera, my only knowledge of this book came from the stage production created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and I have to admit, the original is so much darker then expected.

The novel is follows a man called Erik, who has lived his entire life being treated cruelly by everyone due his facial disfigurement. He wears a mask to cover this and makes his home underneath the Paris Opera House. Here, he becomes obsessed with the beautiful Christine Daae, an obscure opera singer who he covets as she becomes the main object of his love and desire. He privately beings to tutor her in singing, while terrorising the rest of the performers. However, his plans are thwarted when the young Rauol also falls in love with Christine.

Erik is deeply horrible and evil — a very complex character that you kind of can’t but root for as well. I liken him, and I’m sure others do too, to Frankenstein and Heathcliff: tragic figures in a way, but also monstrous. The reader is not supposed to empathise with Erik, and yet there were times I couldn’t help it, due to how desolate his life was and how horrifically he had been treated. However, he too terrifies and violently manipulates Christine and then your sympathy for him quickly evaporates.

The book is a tragedy in every sense of the word and I’m so glad I read it. I’m so keen to watch the 2004 adaptation, but I also think this is a story that needs to be seen live on stage. I feel like Erik’s angst and tragedy better seen then read about. Hopefully the production comes back to Melbourne one day, and I can watch it!

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