A Spooky Classic I Recommend: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Recommend a Spooky Classic

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This post assumes some basic knowledge of The Phantom of the Opera and so contains minor spoilers if you have not seen the movie/musical or read the book.

I don’t read many “spooky” books because I don’t actually like being scared, but a few of the obvious ones came to mind for this post: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Vampyre by John Polidori, anything by Edgar Allan Poe, maybe an Agatha Christie mystery. However, some of these choices, so common to “scary classics” list, are not very scary in my opinion (and, remember, I’m scared of everything). Frankenstein, for instance, is more a musing on life and death and the ethics of science and a variety of other philosophical questions than a frightening monster story. Thus, when I saw this prompt, I knew I had to pick a book that truly had me on the edge of my seat, frightening for the characters and chilled by the story:

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.

If you’ve only seen the movie/musical, you likely think the story is a bit dark but not necessary scary (hence, a previous Classic Remarks prompt about whether the story is romantic). The novel is really much more frightening, and I give it a lot of credit for keeping me variously enthralled/appalled even though I already knew the general plot from having seen the movie!

Leroux’s Phantom (or Opera Ghost) is a terrifying presence only looking out for himself and his own desires. He knows the Opera like the back of his hand and can move, unseen, at will, spying, taking things, leaving things, etc. There are scenes where Christine is constantly looking around, turning to watch behind her, certain every shadow is the Opera Ghost coming for her, and it’s incredibly tense. The Opera Ghost also has power over the managers of the Opera, who bend to his will; otherwise, terrible things happen.

And it’s those terrible things that largely contribute to the scare factor here. People who displease the Opera Ghost or get too close his secrets have terrible accidents; sometimes they die. I think the movie/musical really glosses over this, how cold the Opera Ghost is and how murdering a few people here and there means nothing to him. He also has a literal torture room installed near his rooms under the Opera, which the movie conveniently leaves out.

Most chilling, I think, however, is the scene where Raoul and the Persian go to rescue Christine, and in the dark places under the Opera, the Persian instructs Raoul to keep his arm up near eye level, bent as though he were holding a pistol. Holding his arm like this is, the Persian insists, a matter of life or death. It isn’t for a while that the readers (and Raoul) come to realize this is to keep the Opera Ghost from sneaking up on them and tossing nooses around their necks. Imagining Raoul and the Persian hunting about in the dark, waiting for someone to murder them, knowing they might breathe their last if they lowered their arms for just a second had me cold.

So if you want a dark, chilling story that will keep you turning the pages this Halloween season (or any season), I highly recommend The Phantom of the Opera.

Briana

Roseblood by A. G. Howard

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Goodreads: RoseBlood
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: January 10, 2017

Official Summary

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

Review

I haven’t read anything else by A. G. Howard, but I’ve heard a lot about her “lyrical prose.” Because of this, I had high expectations, but I’m not sure they were met. I admit that I think a lot of prose in YA literature is unsophisticated (Sorry! I do still love YA!), so Howard’s stands out as pretty solid.  Yet she has a tendency to pile on adjectives in a way I don’t personally find either interesting or convincing. I love descriptions of nature from authors like L. M. Montgomery because I can believe that Montgomery knew a lot about plants and spent a lot of time outside observing and loving nature.  Howard, on the other hand, is the type of author who seems to think that calling a rose lush, vibrant, breathtaking, etc. (all in the same sentence)  is a substitute for making me think she really knows or particularly cares about roses.  I don’t really have issues with her prose, but I wouldn’t say it’s a primary draw of the novel.

I found the plot semi-interesting as I was reading, but ultimately cliche.  Or a bit ridiculous.  I admit I may have laughed at some points.  I guess I was expecting something different after seeing many readers rave about Howard’s Splintered series, but I feel I got a very typical YA book in RoseBlood, starting with the protagonist with unique magical power going to an elite boarding school abroad (which, of course, she does not want to attend) and going downhill from there.  The climatic reveals were often the most cliche and funniest (but I won’t get into spoiler territory).  Finally, I thought the  fantasy elements were not very cohesive.  It was like reading a book where you think the world is mostly normal.  But then there are unicorns. But also elemental magic. Oh, but reincarnation. And also some gods.  But maybe vampires, as well.   (These are just examples and not actually what happens in the book.)  I just wanted a better overarching view of how the world works and how all these things go together.

The characters may be the best part of the novel.  (And the cat.) While Rune does have a lot of YA protagonist tropes going on, I think she’s interesting and ultimately likable.  She’s overly dramatic at times, but one can see where she’s coming from, and she tends to have a good heart.  The other characters at the school have a range of personalities: mean girls, swoonworthy guys, girls with thieving tendencies.  Watching Rune’s friendships blossom was very nice.  The only oddity is that this elite French school apparently accepts only American students.  I guess I was hoping for some more international diversity, since that seems like a large point of anyone bothering to study abroad.

I do not, however, think the Phantom aspects of the novel were particularly well-done.  Now, I admit that adaptations of classic literature mean that authors can take liberties with their inspiration.  I think that Howard did her research and knows a lot about The Phantom of the Opera–book,movie, musical, etc.  I just didn’t buy her interpretations of the Opera Ghost character or her insistence that he and Christine actually had a really amazing relationship of true love that only ended because of youth and Christine’s naivete.   I mean…the Opera Ghost, in the novel and even the romanticized movie, was clearly manipulative, abusive, etc. so the true-love narrative is a bit cringe-worthy to me.

I also think it’s hard for RoseBlood to really have any mystery or Gothic feel when Howard is giving readers two points of view, Rune’s and Thorn’s.  The thing that makes Gothic novels actually suspenseful is the not-knowing.  What’s happening?  Who’s causing it?  Is any of it even real, or is the protagonist imagining things?  The space between thinking something truly supernatural is going on or thinking that there must be a “reasonable” explanation is where you hook readers.  RoseBlood has none of that because Howard basically tells us what’s going on the whole time by giving us the phantom’s side of the story intertwined.

My ultimate thoughts about the book are a little complicated. Parts were great and other parts were not.  I think my overarching feeling is satisfied indifference. I think this is a solid YA book. It’s fun, entertaining, and has a romantic love interest. It also has a cute cat.  I just don’t think it’s particularly original.

3 stars Briana