The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux


Before we start off, let me clarify something: because I can’t be bothered to create a “the Broadway stage adaptation is better” tag, my “the movie is better” tag will have to suffice here. The Phantom of the Opera, the show, is a giant, absurd, bombastic display of every bad misconception of theater, and is the main reason Andrew Lloyd Weber is able to fall asleep on a bed made of money every night. The most recent movie version is worse, although if you can manage to see the silent film version from 1925, it’s actually pretty cool – last I checked, you can watch it instantly on Netflix. It’s not my favorite show, is what I’m saying – in fact, I don’t even really like the show, come to think of it (which begs the question of why I read this book in the first place, but whatever). So, with all that in mind, Loud Bookish Type Inc now presents:

Why The Phantom of the Opera the Book Is, Somehow, Worse Than The Stage Show And Every Movie Version Released So Far:

-Everyone in the book is a moron. Like, even more than they are in the show. I was halfway through the book and realized, “Wait a minute, am I supposed to be surprised by the revelation that the Phantom and Christine’s tutor are the same guy? Haven’t we known that from, like, page twenty?” Even if I hadn’t seen any other versions, I feel sure I would have figured it out – come on, the story is about people trying to learn the identity of a mysterious, invisible guy and the title of the book is The Phantom of the Opera. Were Gaston Leroux’s readers really that stupid?

-Annoying characters from the show are even more annoying here. Christine is still a useless twit, and in this version comes upgraded with zero observation skills and a seriously misguided sense of priorities. When she admits to Raoul (after like two months of bullshit) that the Phantom scares the hell out of her and she wants to escape him, Raoul makes the very sensible point that maybe she should stop wearing the ring the Phantom gave her. Christine’s response: “That would be deceitful.” GAAAAAAHHHHH.

Raoul is even worse. In the show, he’s simply a well-meaning schmuck who fails spectacularly at saving Christine every opportunity he gets. In the book, he’s a selfish dick. This is a paraphrased account of an interaction between him and Christine:

Raoul: “Christine, I know there’s something super weird going on with this guy you’re running off to see, and I want you to tell me what’s up because I love you and want to protect you.”
Christine: “It’s too dangerous, I can’t tell you.”

-We never get to see anything from Christine’s perspective. This is important, because in the book she spends at least two months as the Phantom’s prisoner, and all we get is her description, later, of what it was like. Instead of seeing the Phantom through Christine’s eyes, where he might have been a more compelling character, we just get to watch Raoul follow her around like a creeper and then listen to Christine give lengthy expositional speeches after events happen.

-The Phantom isn’t actually that cool. He’s always bursting into tears and begging Christine to love him, and the rest of the time he’s so incredibly misguided about his relationship with Christine that it’s almost funny. He comes off sounding like one of those perverts on cop shows who insists that he and the ten-year-old locked in his basement actually have a very special and loving relationship, while the cops are just looking at him like, that’s nice, man, but your ass is still going to jail.

-There are way more characters than we need, and a lot of them are different (read: worse) than they are in the show. Madame Giry, last seen as a cool, commanding ballet mistress, is merely a crazy old woman who works for the Phantom because he deceived her with the most idiotic lie ever. The book also features The Persian, a guy who literally hangs around the Opera and shows up whenever it’s thematically necessary. He might as well have been named Deus Ex Machina.

-Leroux’s pacing sucks. Any drama is instantly ruined by his digressions or abrupt scene-changing, and all momentum is lost. When the Phantom kidnaps Christine after her final performance, the story is going along well, everyone’s freaking out and trying to find her, and then Leroux pops up: “Hey!” he says, “You guys remember how on page 20 I told you that the new managers have to pay the Phantom 20,000 francs once a month? I bet you guys are wondering how that’s going, huh? Let’s check in with them quick.” And before you can say, no, Gaston, I actually wasn’t wondering that at all, he makes you slog through two goddamn chapters about the new managers trying to figure out how the Phantom collects their money.

Similarly, once Raoul and the Persian have gone after the Phantom and are almost at his lair (a journey that takes way, way too long) they get locked in his torture chamber (which involves torture so stupid I won’t even describe it) and the plot comes to a damn standstill as Raoul and the Persian spends hours trapped there. It made me actually long for the show, where everything skips along at a fast clip and the worst digressions are five-minute love songs.

-The ending is stupid. Christine gets the Phantom to release her and Raoul (after a lengthy imprisonment that, again, we only get to hear about rather than see), not by having a sexy quick makeout session with him, but by crying with him. That’s it. The Phantom kisses her (on the forehead), bursts into tears, and Christine cries with him. This somehow convinces the Phantom that she loves Raoul and that he should let them go, and that’s how the Phantom is defeated. I am in no way joking.

In the interest of fairness, the book has two good things going for it: first, Leroux’s portrayal of the opera house as a sprawling, complex maze that’s a contained city is pretty incredible, and he’s at his best when he’s describing all the intricacies and hidden secrets of the opera house. And at least in the book we are never subjected to a performance of Don Juan Triumphant. Thank you, Jesus.

Verdict: two out of five stars


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