Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted for stage and screen so many times, many of us will be familiar with the story without ever having read the book. But whether you’ve seen any of the adaptations or not, you can expect the novel to be different in many ways and it’s an entertaining read in its own right. Although I won’t be adding it to my list of all-time favourite classics, I did enjoy it and had fun reading it.
The novel was first published in English in 1911, having previously been serialised in a French newspaper during 1909 and 1910. For those of you who don’t know the plot, the story takes place in the Paris Opera House, which is apparently haunted by a ghost. When Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, falls in love with Christine Daaé, a singer at the Opera House, he discovers that he has a rival for Christine’s love: the Opera Ghost himself.
In the prologue, Leroux tells us that this is a true story and that he has carried out extensive research, interviewing some of the characters and studying the archives of the National Academy of Music.
The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.
But whether or not you believe that the ghost was real, the opera house was definitely based on a real place, designed by the architect Charles Garnier in the 1860s. Almost the entire story is set inside the opera house, which becomes a whole world in itself complete with an underground lake, a maze of tunnels and even a torture chamber. It was a fascinating setting to read about and in a way, the building is the most important character in the book, providing a lot of the novel’s atmosphere and suspense.
Although the book is presented as if it was a factual account, the writing is never dry. In fact, it’s the opposite: it’s filled with passion and emotion. It’s also very melodramatic and over the top, which made it quite funny at times (though I wasn’t always sure if it was supposed to be!) but what the book lacks in quality of prose is made up for in the storytelling and exciting plot. I didn’t love The Phantom of the Opera, but it kept me entertained and I’m glad to have finally read it.