Phantom’s story begins with Erik’s birth to a very young and very beautiful girl named Madeleine. His mother lived a sheltered and happy life up until several months before his birth when both her parents and her husband died. Faced with the birth of a “monstrous” child, she is unable to handle her life or her new son. He is left to his own devices in a house where his mother cannot even bring herself to kiss him.
Madeleine’s story begins the tragic saga of Erik’s life. Through a series of narrators, Erik’s story is told as he travels the world and learns architecture, magic tricks, and how to kill. Sadly, no matter how skilled he is at his job or how lovely his voice is, he can never escape the fact that others will always wonder what is behind his mask and be frightened once they suspect or know the truth.
Erik can deal with the world’s dismissal of him. He, however, has tremendous difficulty accepting with the fact that he believes he will never experience love. This issue only gets harder for him when he first sees the lovely and talented Christine Daae.
I loved Susan Kay’s take on The Phantom of the Opera story. It’s been a long time since I read the Gaston Leroux novel, but the musical was very much in my mind as I read Phantom. The songs kept playing through my mind as turned the pages. I have never been a huge fan of the musical, but this book added another level to the story that I had never clearly pictured before. I can’t wait to go back now and watch the musical. I feel I have a new understanding of the characters and their actions.
Susan Kay’s back-story for Erik finally made him a tragic hero for me. When I read the original book and watched the musical, I merely found Erik interesting and, okay, attractive (depending on the actor playing him), but I never felt overly sad for him. He was fascinating, sure, but not real enough in my mind to evoke any commiseration from me. After reading Phantom, he went from being merely a charismatic fictional character to having a three-dimensional almost flesh and blood persona in my mind. When the final act came in the book, I truly felt for him because I understood why Christine was breaking his heart by asking him to kill a spider and why his stories had such significance to him.
Susan Kay’s writing was wonderfully vibrant overall. She created a beautiful, immersive world for Erik and I loved exploring it with the various viewpoint characters. If I had one issue to bring up with the novel, though, it would be the fact that the story is told in first person and yet all of the narrators sound suspiciously similar. Occasionally, that fact would distract me from the story, but for the most part, the characters and the storytelling were strong enough to overcome that weakness.
If you’re a fan of The Phantom of the Opera (whether book or musical), I would give Phantom a try. I surprised myself by absolutely falling in love with this novel. Its story is beautiful and sad, and I would say that it’s definitely worth your time.