Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera is the sort of traditional ghost story that people never tire of - like the ubiquitous lady in white. Countless movies have been made starring this graceful wraith in a flowing white sari and long black hair, but if yet another such movie comes out, and is well made, people would still watch it. Of course, the Phantom was the first of these stories, written way back in 1910 by a colourful man of the world, Gaston Leroux.
Leroux's style is so earnest that you want to take pity on it and believe what he says. The plot is well constructed and he manages to extricate himself honorably from each of the twists he weaves. You will agree that there are few things more infuriating than a suspense thriller where the author conveniently leaves loose ends untied.
What makes this incredible story interesting is the grand scale of Leroux's writing. Modesty is abandoned, mediocrity goes out the window and simplicity only describes his heroine. Leroux paints a gigantic, intricate, grand picture and still manages to make sure that the details are taken care of. His description of the opera house and the music is sweeping; it's the perfect stage for his unbelievable story. The opera ghost is fleshed out beautifully, leaving just enough to the imagination to conjure up a terrible, sad creature. In fact, the excellent characterization is one of the strengths of this story.
Verdict: It is only fitting that it should be set in an opera house: it is as magnificent, as rich and as exclusive as an opera. And yet, this book is not a must-read. It is not a masterpiece, but it is one of those stories that one must know, and litsnobs, of course, would rather read it than watch it.