Phantom

Phantom - Susan Kay I first read this book back in 1993, when I was about to enter high school. I had discovered the story of the Phantom of the Opera thanks to my friend Katrina who had loaned me the London Cast of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Our small-town library did not have a copy of the Leroux novel, which was what I really wanted, but in the 'adult paperbacks' section, there was this book. Since reading it, like many others, I have considered Kay's novel the "real" version of the story. Lloyd Webber's musical runs a close second, but I will never quite forgive that version for depriving Erik of his name.Going back to the book (I hadn't read it in at least five years, likely more), I did see some flaws here and there that I missed as a younger reader. The old things that constantly pop up in discussion forums of writers. "We're told not to use passive voice, and she did it. How come she got published and I haven't?" The answer is in Kay's wonderful characterization. We follow Erik through all the trials of his life, seeing him through his own eyes as well as all those who love him. His mother, who came to care too late, Giovanni and Luciana, Nadir, Christine, and (yes) even Raoul.Madeleine, Erik's mother, is a spoiled brat, but even the most mature of women would have bent under the weight of a baby like Erik. In less than a moment, Madeleine finds herself a pariah, all because of this baby she's produced "like an imperfectly working potter's wheel" (7). It takes nearly losing him to a knife wound for Madeleine to realize she's learned to love her son. He, convinced he is a danger to her as long as he is under her roof, runs away at the age of eight.Giovanni and Luciana, whom Erik meets in his teenage years, are likely the most colourful characters in the book. Giovanni is just the kind of father I would wish for, but not the kind of father his daughter, Luciana, needs. Luciana, fascinated by Erik's mask, falls in love with the mystery, if not the person, of Erik. She reminds me very much of many young fans of the Phantom of the Opera. Her cry to her father "I won't let him be ugly, Papa...I won't let him be! (148), reminds me greatly of several stories I've come across that seek to make Erik beautiful despite his face (through his physique or a sudden cure for his deformity), but to take Erik away from his ugliness is to make him into someone else, to make him ordinary -- or at least as ordinary as someone of such genius can be. He would be another Mozart, another Hawking, but no longer Erik.Then, there is Nadir, beloved Nadir. Called only "the Persian" in Leroux's novel, he is Erik's friend and conscience in Kay's. In her author's note, she admits to being fascinated by the history between the Persian and Erik, which Leroux only mentions, then dismisses. She's provided this character with a name, a family, a full history, and allows us to think just what it might have cost him to lead Raoul down into Erik's home. Even in her choice of name, Kay shows how long she's considered the Persian's character. "Nadir", in English, can mean "the lowest point", and in Persia, we see Erik slip very low indeed. It is in Persia that he learns to kill for pleasure, rather than for self-defence. In Arabic "Nadir" means "opposite", and, again, we see how that is reflected in the Persian's character. He is Erik's opposite in many ways. A man with enough conscience for two, who demands, as Erik leaves Persia, that there will be no more unnecessary murders. For Nadir alone, I would love this book.The story with which most are familiar, that of the original novel and the Lloyd Webber musical, that of Erik and Christine and Raoul, takes up only the last quarter of the book (about 100 pages), told mostly in counterpoint between Erik's narration and Christine's journal. By this time, we have been with Erik so long, seen so many glimpses of the good in him, we can understand how Christine is torn between his genius and Raoul's normalcy. Even without the lair under the Opera House, even without his simmering violence, even without his face, life with a man like Erik would not be easy -- but there would be rewards. Christine can see that, even as she shrinks from him. Ambition, art, music, these are the things Erik offers. Things that, like him, offer challenges and rewards. Raoul offers a sheltered life, in which such demands will not be made, but neither will the rewards be gained. I think every artist understands her dilemma. I would like to think I would choose the ambitious path, but I cannot say for certain. When Christine chooses Erik, I can't help but be awed by her bravery. When Erik releases her to Raoul, I am awed by his.The last section, the last page of the novel is what I remember most about the book. Raoul's short narration closes the book as he returned to the Opera House in 1897 with Charles, Christine's son and Erik's, whom he has raised as his own. Through the son, Raoul has come to understand more than a bit about the father, and no longer resents the cuckoo Erik left in his nest. Charles, though our glimpse of him is brief, shows us what Erik might have been, had fate been a little kinder at his birth.The novel ends with Raoul addressing the deceased Erik. I've never reached the end of this novel without being moved by these words in some new way.Seventeen years, Erik...too long for bitterness, too long for hate. Your genius was not wiped from this earth without trace and I have brought him here tonight, like a young pilgrim to a shrine, in final payment of a long outstanding debt.I, who shared so unwillingly in your tragedy, now find myself, by some ironic twist of fate, left alone to glory in your triumph. This brilliant, loving boy, who calls me Father in his innocence, has taught me so many things I might never have grasped about love. I see the world through his eyes now, I glimpse my appointed place in the grand order of things. Like a weary sparrow, I look with fond pride on the giant I have raised as my own. My feathers have grown sparse and shabby in a difficult quest, but I am warmed and comforted by his presence now. I dread the day when I must lose him to the fame and glory that unquestionably await.His sons will continue the proud Chagny line and I shall take my secret with me to the grave without resentment...almost without regret.The cuckoo, you see...The cuckoo is a beautiful bird! (418)It's almost with regret that I return this volume to the shelf, but it will come down again in a year, or two, or five, and I know I will continue to love it more with each reading.