A review by directorpurry
Phantom, by Susan Kay

2.0

Actual rating: 1.5 stars (but not malicious stars; I'm really sad to be writing this review, tbh!)
CW: child abuse, death of an animal, death of a child, racism/slurs (specifically against Romani people), attempted rape, drug abuse

I, unlike many, many people, had more than a couple of issues with this book. It shows its age, certainly, being read 30 years later, but it also attempts to cater to both fans of the original novel and fans of the musical at the same time - and, personally, I felt it did neither one justice. Simply because there are so many glowing reviews of this novel, I'm going to break this down into categories to be as thorough as possible, since clearly the average star rating can take it!

Adaptation: This book tries to include elements of both the staged musical and the original novel, [b:The Phantom of the Opera|480204|The Phantom of the Opera|Gaston Leroux|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1327867727l/480204._SY75_.jpg|2259720] by Gaston Leroux, and does both rather poorly. There are elements not included in the musical, or elements only present in the musical but not the book, that were all included alongside each other. I expect those who only knew the musical coming in were surprised to meet the Persian or to learn about the torture chamber. I was really disappointed in the way the Rosy Hours of Mazanderan were presented; it didn't completely line up with the description in the original novel - rather than the "little sultana," we had a grown woman (Frequently attempting to seduce Erik for some reason?). Also, WHERE was the graveyard? Where was the resurrection of Lazarus scene?? That part is so poignant in the original novel and it was entirely cut without even a single mention in this book. It also failed spectacularly at creating the relationship between Raoul and Christine. Just... bad. In the original novel, she clearly has a preference for Raoul, while in the musical her love is more torn - but in Phantom, she's in love with Erik and seems only to use Raoul to make Erik jealous. She picks Raoul over Erik because he's the safe, less scary choice, not because she loves him.
I do have a sneaking suspicion the circus/cage scene included in part two inspired the circus present in the 2004 musical film, also based on the stage musical.
Not only were there scenes from the book that I expected but could not find, it also created a number of problems with the timeline...

Timeline: About halfway through the novel, Phantom meets up with the actual events of The Phantom of the Opera. But by trying to follow both diverging timelines of the novel and the musical, the story finds itself muddled up. Joseph Buquet dies too early, the chandelier falls too late. The manager's gala and the New Year's masquerade ball are entirely cut and Christine and Raoul's romance is completely sideways. Phantom fails to include a significant number of scenes from the original novel, and some of the scenes that were included rewrote the original dialogue for no good reason, making it read particularly stilted and not at all following the original pace and plot beats of the story.
There was also an abject failure to complete the Chekhov's Gun prerogative!
SpoilerErik obtains a large amount of gun powder from radicals during the days of the Paris commune. He briefly mentions that if the opera house is ever slated for demolition, he will use the gunpowder to destroy it himself. In the original novel, Erik asks Christine to marry him and if she refuses the engagement, he will blow up the entire opera house via a basement full of gunpowder - the obtaining of which was never explicitly explained. However, this is one of the scenes that suffered the cuts of Phantom. So, he has a basement full of gun powder which he never references again!


Narration: I think this novel made a misstep in having such a wide swath of narrators. While most of the novel was narrated by others, three sections were narrated by Erik. I think it would have been more successful if the entire book was narrated by Erik or it was completely narrated by others. In the original novel, Erik is, while not a minor character by any means, not on the page for more than a third of the book. He's built up as and then torn down from this mystical, powerful, mysterious creature. He's far more powerful as a character when so much is left to the imagination; in Phantom it's all laid bare.

Language and Vernacular: Multiple times during the story, I noticed inconsistent use of language. For example, Erik is French. He is very French. He was born in France and lived all over Europe - but never in England. Despite this, he frequently uses very British turns of phrase, like "bloody." Later in the book, Meg Giry calls her mother "Ma" rather than "Mama," which would be more appropriate for a French-speaking character to do.
Earlier in the story, while Erik was living in Italy, one of the Italian characters referenced a "siesta," which is Spanish, when he should have called it a "riposo" instead. Later in the story, Erik tells the Persian he has his "wires crossed," a phrase that wasn't in print until 1891, but this scene was set in 1880.

White Savior-ism and Euro-centrism: Erik is clearly placed above those in Mezanderan because he is "rational" or perhaps more "civilized," despite whatever problems he has in his past. His way of thinking is placed above Persian society without qualm. He refuses to engage in customs - good or bad - and is seen as superior because of his choices. He goes on to speak of the architecture as ugly because it is extremely different from European architecture, and then the Persian goes on to noncommittally agree with him - which is frankly absurd because look at how breathtakingly gorgeous these buildings are. I don't even need to go on, because that's the most blatant example of Euro-centrism and superiority that I have seen in my entire life.

Romanticization and Veneration: Erik is thoroughly romanticized through this book. The reader is told how smart and strong and talented... how everything but handsome Erik is, despite his frequent lapses in temper and his increasing willingness to kill over time. We're supposed to see Erik as a good guy just because he doesn't rape women when he has the chance to. Personally, I found the frequent reiteration of this concept to be a bit absurd, considering the bar is so low as to make it the baseline for not being a POS human being.
Characters are much more powerful, especially morally gray ones, when they're presented plainly to the reader, and the reader is then allowed to form their own opinions. Erik is compared to angelic and Jesus figures to excess throughout the story in direct opposition to the way his character is broken down from Angel of Music to human man by the end of the original novel. He never moves beyond this loving portrayal to the detriment of the reader's ability to interpret the story.

Treatment of Female Characters: There was really a very distasteful edge to the way women were talked about in this book. They were either to be looked down upon and had no agency of their own or were malicious characters. Only the male characters seemed to be able to move with purpose through the story - even Raoul, who's portrayed terribly, has more active choice than Christine. All that she does is in response to her dead father, to Raoul, or to Erik.

Final thoughts: I realized as I was nearing the end of this book that many of the pieces left purposefully vague and mysterious in the original Phantom of the Opera were done so with good reason. Erik's strange mystery is far more alluring than the full explanation could ever be. His mystery is the reason so much of pop culture - and I include myself in this - has turned to romanticizing this particularly flawed but talented individual.
Whatever answers I was hoping for, I did not find in this book. It contains dated language and lackluster characterization that relies far too heavily on the reader's prior inclination to love, or at least be deeply interested, in Erik. Instead of a few answers and some more mystery, it struggles to lay everything bare, to the detriment of writing and storyline. By trying to include elements of both the novel and the musical, it fails to include important scenes and do justice to either version.