Just Read: Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Horror, MFA, Reading, SHU


It took me quite awhile to get into this book. I was probably about one third of the way through before I really wanted to continue reading. There are a couple inherent drawbacks to reading Phantom. First, it’s from an entirely different time. When this was written, books had a different flavor, a different format. So many things that would be considered mistakes making a manuscript un-publishable (head hopping, lots and lots of exclamation points) were common. Also, this is a translation. The book was written in French, originally, and I’ve found that there are always a few issues when reading a translated work.

So when I read this book, I tried to take those two things into account. I have to admit, the head hopping got to me. From paragraph to paragraph sometimes we were in different people’s heads. As a reader of mostly modern books, this is something that isn’t common anymore. We tend to usually have a point of view character. I admit that this issue was something that really kept tripping me up.

As far as the story itself, this really didn’t strike me as horror. Perhaps I’m jaded, but I found myself more interested in it as a mystery than horrified at it as a monster tale. I’ve never seen the musical based on the book, so I really went into it with fresh eyes and no pre-conceptions. I only had the vaguest notion of the story itself. But I was an avid reader of Stephen King (of course), Clive Barker, Dean Koontz and various other prolific and scary dudes who wrote in the 80s and 90s. So I think my sense of what horror is is very much based on those books I read as a young adult. And Phantom just doesn’t make the cut for me as horror.

I did get drawn into the story because I wanted to know what the actual deal was. I wanted to know just how crazy Eric was. I was a little disappointed in his virtue at the end and how he released Christine, but it really just compounded my confusion about who and what he was. It seemed as though Leroux wanted him to be this horrible bad guy, but then didn’t want him to be this horrible bad guy. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to like him or hate him. Subsequently, I did neither.

I think Phantom would do well as a modern re-telling. I suppose there are a number of books which pay homage to this story, but I think a close re-telling with modern writing styles would make it a really interesting and attention-riveting book. So overall, I was a bit disappointed in the horror element of this one and once I suspended my issues with the writing style, I did like following the mystery of who the O.G. was and how it all got resolved. I probably wouldn’t read it again though.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    February 5, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I agree that this book isn’t so much horror. To me, it was a mystery at best. I didn’t care for it much when I read it the first time, but I love the old movie versions. The greatest thing about the whole story is the setting. L’Opera is one of the creepiest places in Paris. The history surrounding the building make it the scary part of the story.
    I think in some ways, Phantom is like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I think Leroux may have written more about the building than that characters.

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