Tuesday, June 05, 2012

"Phantom" by Susan Kay

My voice was my one beauty, my only power, my only hope; my voice would open a magic pathway into her life. I could not steal her body---but I could steal her voice and weld it irretrievably with mine; I could take it and mold it and make it mine forever, one little part of her that no other man should ever possess. All I had to do was break the silence that stood like a wall between us

Oh Phantom of theOpera, like every other grade 7 Canadian I was so buzzed about you.  You ran at the Pantages forever. I’ve seen you 7 times on stage , I devoured the Gaston Leroux novel (free on kindle---click link) like there was a drought of demon-possessed opera ghosts, I saw all the bad film incarnations (including one with Burt Lancaster that no one should see), I sat through Emmy Rossum andGerard Butler in the Joel Schumacher version, I started taking classical voice lessons because I wanted to be Christine.

My story and life-long love affair with you ( and, let’s face it, mostly with Colm Wilkinson )  is nothing new.  So, of course, my grade 7 self ALWAYS wanted to read the Susan Kay novel. But, it was long out of print and I didn’t figure I’d fork over whatever gargantuan asking price was listed on ABEbooks or amazon.  However, e-bookversion? Damn right!  So, away I went.

The thing is, you guys, that this is FAN FICTION! This is the stuff that people write on fanfic.net ALL the time. However, Susan Kay was fortunate enough to be able to spin a yarn excavating the fictional past of a fictional character at an inspired time.  Phantom-mania ricocheted around the world, and Kay picked up the fire and ran with it.  She did it, I’ll admit, remarkably well.

Yes, she speaks directly to her fanbase: those like me who are all “GAH! MUSICALS! MUSICALS! MARIUS! MUSICALS!RAOUL, YOU SUCK! MUSICALS! MISS SAIGON! MUSICALS! BLOCKBUSTER! MUSICALS NIGGGGHTTTTIMMME SHAAAAARPENS! MUSICALS MUSICALS POOR PHANTOM! JAVERT!”  by tossing in slight and knowing references to  the Lloyd Webber adaptation; but she also knows her Gaston Leroux and her Phantom universe and, moreover, she has an incredible sense of 19th century history and a penchant for heartbreaking, melodramatic, melancholic narration. I would expect nothing less of the silver platter serving up Erik’s story.

It poses an interesting question; can fanfiction stand on its own as  real, plausible literary endeavor? This memoir of a fictional personage is so well-drawn and intertwined with such believable and well-strung details that you feel as if Erik really lived… does that not speak to the compelling and timeless nature of a character so well-drawn out he is able to spring from his creator’s mind and into a book wholly his own?  Kay paints a winding, mystical backstory that is at times spiritual and reverent and at most awe-inspiring and disturbed.

Hi! I'm Colm Wilkinson. I am the best at everything

The innocent part of myself that felt sorry for the Phantom/Erik and was all, like “ Oh my god! Raoul, you suck! See, Christine! He can pop up in a mirror and he has a boat! On a lake! Under a theatre! With candles! Who lit the candles? Does he light the candles! They are MAGICAL CANDLES! They float! So cool! MASQUERAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADE” was rattled by the sexualized and synergized masochism of this mentally disturbed hybrid human/creature.  From the beginning, he cannot keep his mother’s love, his visage is one of a rotting corpse, his ingenious nature is baffling beyond prodigious prodigy and there seem to be darker forces at work.  Is Erik a satanic stand-in? It would seem thus.  He joins a gypsy circus, he works with a kind-hearted stone mason until warped by unintentional murder, he is educated in the craft of magic, torture and booby traps in India and finally he makes his way to the Paris Opera where he becomes resident Ghost in Box 5 and the cool stuff all we Phantom-ites were waiting for begins to transpire.

He hears Christine: she has long dark hair and looks like his mother--- he has so many issues he decides to make her his.  He lures her into his damp, molted lair and they sing together. He sits by his foreboding organ and pounds out Don Juan Triumphant.  Upstairs, Christine is drawn to Raoul: the most cardboard character since David Grantland met Gilbert Blythe (HAD David Grantland met Gilbert Blythe). It’s fascinating. There are mirrors. There is a statue of Apollo on the rooftop.  It so harkens back to the Leroux novel and to the musical source material that one’s recollection of both, in perfect symmetry, are sprung into overdrive.

This is a cool experience, kids.  And it is WELL-WRITTEN!  It’s a little cheesy and hokey; but SO IS THE WHOLE FRIGGIN’ plot of the original….

So, if you find yourself clapping whenever “Prima Donna” pops up on your ipod, jump in.


Kailana said...

I loved this book! I have a physical copy. I think it was rereleased a couple years ago? In any case, I was very happy to read it and keep meaning to reread it.

Charity said...

Still my favorite book.