Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Phantom by Susan Kay

GENRE: re-telling/historical gothic romance

A child is born... His mother's only gift is a mask. Precocious and gifted, he will live friendless and alone. Taunted and abused, he will flee, only to find himself caged again – as a freak in a Gypsy carnival. A brilliant outcast... the world is his home. Filled with bitter rage, he will kill to escape, becoming a stonemason's apprentice in Rome... a dark magician at the treacherous Persian court... and finally, the genius behind the construction of the Paris Opera House and the labyrinthine world below. Lacking one thing only: A woman's love. Cloaked in secrets, his power complete, he will see the exquisite Christine and for the first time know what it means to love. Obsessed, he will bring her into his eerie subterranean world, driven to posses her heart and soul. Phantom: A haunting story of power and darkness, of magic and murder, of sensuality and betrayal, and ultimately, the unforgettable story of a man and a woman and the eternal quality of love.


This novel is not a sequel to, but a re-telling of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera, first published in 1910. I read Kay’s Phantom because (so far) Leroux’s original story is my favourite novel and I just love a good Gothic drama.

Kay used all the elements from Leroux’s drama that described the Phantom’s, that is Erik’s, life. Leroux focused on the present time of the story and explained Erik’s life prior to the events taking place in his book very briefly. Kay expanded them, starting with the day Erik was born (and even before that, as she presented his mother’s life before giving birth to her only child) and ending with the day the Phantom takes his last breath.

The novel is told from several points of view: Erik’s mother’s, Giovanni’s (a master mason who took Erik as his apprentice in Italy), the Daroga’s (Erik’s only “friend”), Christine’s (Erik’s love interest) and, of course, Erik’s, which is the most poignant one of all, truly exposing the Phantom to the reader as everything he is.

The novel goes through the Phantom’s evolution, from the boy who was Erik to the man who became the mysterious, genial, "angelic", terrifying and tragic Phantom. His character and life story are truly developed and the book really digs deep. The author clearly made a lot of research, so this is a truly enjoyable historical read. Of course, the atmosphere is often dark in the Gothic sense,as well as very intense, but also romantic and it can be quite a dynamic journey for the reader. The language of the book is very beautiful, runs smoothly and is quite lyrical at times. The novel features some very memorable, beautiful and scary lines, one of them being (and a personal favourite of mine), “I can make anything disappear if I want to... Anything except my face.” Spoken by Erik, it is both scary and tragic.

I only have two complaints about the book and they are spoilers, so if you don’t want to know about them, don’t read this. SPOILERS: My first complaint is Christine’s physical appearance. She looks like Erik’s mother and his love for her suggests that he might be suffering from the Oedipus complex, which kind of ruins the love story and his epic and complex love for her. My second complaint is about Christine cuckolding her husband, sleeping with the Phantom and giving birth to Erik’s child. This completely defeats the purpose and meaning of the original book’s ending. Most Phantom fans (or rather, spelled phans) dream about Christine and Erik ending up together, which does not happen in the original, but them actually sleeping together without being married goes way out of character for both of them, especially Erik. If you read the original, then you know what I am talking about. The Phantom worships the ground that has been touched by Christine’s feet, one could say, and his love is not carnal. He would want to wait for things to be proper, as by sleeping with Christine while she was not his wife would seem like a humiliation to him – a humiliation of her. END OF SPOILERS.

All in all, this is a wonderful, touching story about the Phantom, his life and his tragic love for a woman he could not have, but he would do anything in his power to claim her. It is filled with delightful historical details, spanning from France and Italy all the way to Persia and then back to France. It’s about human evil, love, obsession, music (and its power) and ultimately, about the need to simply belong. I definitely recommend this to all Phantom fans. I was definitely pleased by this novel. But I also recommend this book to all who like a good historical drama and a Gothic romance. However, I do suggest that you read the original by Leroux first.

THIS MISS RATES: / (4.5 stars)


Peppermint Ph.D. said...

I have never read the original but I will now. My middle daughter hates to read (not sure how she's related to me ;) but absolutely loves anything Phantom related. We were able to take her to NYC to see the broadway show last Spring Break...she was in heaven. I think I'll get the novel and show it to her...the orginal, that is. I'll let her decide if she wants to read the retelling :) Keep your fingers crossed!

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

I would definitely call myself a phan but I'm not sure I'd like this. I prefer the musical to the novel (bad me!) and I tried to read this once but couldn't get in to it.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@Peppermint: Yay, I like to hear about Phantom fans!:) I think that if your daughter loves the musical, then she might like Kay's Phantom more, but I think the original is a must for a phan.

@Bookworm: Cool, fellow phan.:) You're not bad because you prefer the musical. Many people do. I adore it, it's beautiful.

Blodeuedd said...

I think I would just read the real deal instead.

I like your spoiler, that makes so much sense

Julie P said...

I saw another good review of this book earlier this year. I haven't read either one, but some day....

Unknown said...

I can't say this one really appeals to me although I do love certain elements of Gothicism.