Phantom (Kay novel)

Author Susan Kay
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 532
ISBN 0-385-40087-X (hardcover first edition)
OCLC 21412105

Phantom is a 1990 novel by Susan Kay, based on the Gaston Leroux novel The Phantom of the Opera. It is a biography of the title character, Erik.

Plot summary

The Phantom is born as Erik in Boscherville, a small town not far from Rouen, in the summer of 1831. His mother is the beautiful and talented daughter of an English woman and a French architect, a spoiled and vain woman who scorns her deformed child from birth, puts a mask on his face, and cannot bring herself to name him. Instead, she instructs the elderly priest who baptises him to name the child after himself. Due to his mother's shame but also for his own safety, Erik is forced to spend his childhood locked in his home lest he or his mother become a target for the violent attentions of the superstitious villagers of Boscherville.

Much of the verbal and physical abuse Erik suffers from his mother is chronicled in the opening chapters of the novel. After being forced to look at himself in a mirror Erik becomes fascinated, believing that mirrors are capable of performing magic. This fascination turns into an obsession and Erik quickly becomes a master of illusion, able to make people see only what he wants them to see. From a young age, Erik exhibits a strong interest in architecture and is privately tutored by a well-respected professor. However, his strongest abilities lie in the subject of music and he is an incredibly talented composer and performer. However, his mother does not encourage his pursuit of singing, claiming that his supernaturally beautiful voice cannot have been created by God.

At nine years old Erik's mother begins to respond to the attentions of the handsome, new town physician, which upsets Erik. He uses his new-found abilities to hypnotize her into rejecting the physicians advances and keep her trapped in their home under his care, but his relationship with the villagers comes to a boiling point when they kill his beloved dog. Erik runs away from home believing this will make his mother's life easier. After a week or so without food, he stumbles upon a Gypsy camp in the woods. He is discovered as a thief and is unmasked. Upon seeing his face, a freak show showman named Javert decides to exhibit him as the "Living Corpse" and Erik is locked in a cage. The act involves a great deal of abuse including keeping his arms and legs tied down so that attendees can look at him, and the showman regularly beats him. Eventually, he gains some personal freedoms as he develops his show to include the illusions that he had begun to master as a child in Boscherville. He travels around Europe with the Gypsies and masters their languages as well as their herbal remedies, remaining with the tribe until he is about 12 years old when the showman drunkenly attempts to force himself on him, at which point Erik kills him and is forced to once again flee.

While performing at a fair in Rome Erik meets Giovanni, a master mason who takes the boy on as his apprentice. Quickly mastering the design and construction of buildings, he stays with Giovanni until age 15. He spends a few happy years under the man's tutelage until Giovanni's spoiled teenage daughter, Luciana, returns from school. Her return causes a rift as she claims to be in love with Erik but seems incapable of communicating this in a healthy way, talking down to him and going as far as to smash his belongings after he does not pay desired attention to her. Erik is finally forced to again flee after causing Luciana's death inadvertently, as she the crumbling stone of their terrace causes her to fall as she flees from the sight of his face. Erik continues to travel throughout Europe and into Asia, occasionally performing with travelling fairs.

Four years later, he is sought out by the Daroga of Mazanderan Court, named Nadir in this interpretation, and becomes a court assassin, magician, and personal engineer to the Persian Shah. Responsible for the entertainment of the Khanum, the Shah's mother, he builds sophisticated traps and torture devices for her amusement. He builds an unlikely friendship with Nadir during this time. In addition, he is involved in the design and construction of a palace for the Shah, throughout that time becoming involved in political affairs which make him a target for a poisoning attempt from which he nearly dies but is saved by Nadir. He eventually flees once his status as a political target becomes obvious and makes his way back to France.

Since early childhood, Erik wanted to design a Paris Opera House. Unfortunately for him, the contest for the position is over by the time he learns of it. He approaches the winner, Charles Garnier, and makes a deal with him wherein he may help design and build the Palais Garnier Opera House. An underground lake is created, and without the knowledge of the other workers, Erik builds a maze of tunnels and corridors in the lower levels, a lair for himself where he may live protected from the public.

Besides being a brilliant inventor and engineer, Erik is also a musical genius, and he is frequently involved in the affairs the opera house. Because he cannot show his face in public, he takes the disguise of a ghost, using violence in order to blackmail the opera managers and bind them to his will, exploiting the employees' superstitions to maintain his power.

The rest of the book loosely follows the original Phantom of the Opera novel - differing on several points but following the relationship between Erik and the object of his desire, Christine Daae, and switching back and forth between their points of view. The relationship between Christine and Erik is explored in greater detail and with greater compassion than the original novel, allowing Erik to finally find love and redemption in a world that has shown him nothing but cruelty since birth.


Allusions/references to other works

Kay's Phantom is not a sequel, but rather a retelling of the original Leroux novel. While the book draws mainly from Leroux's text, there are also obvious references to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical: several phrases from the musical's lyrics are used to describe certain circumstances in the book. There are also nods to the Lon Chaney film version of the story. The character of Javert shares his name with the obsessive police captain who hunts Jean Valjean for twenty years in Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. The storyline surrounding Erik's vain, childish mother bears some glancing similarities to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary; like Emma Bovary, she lives in a stultifyingly provincial town and is courted by a medical man.

In total, it took Kay eighteen months to complete the novel, during which time she traveled to the United States and Rome and researched various aspects of nineteenth-century life in the countries in which the novel was set. Among her references were Munro Butler Johnson's A Trip up the Volga to the Fair of Nijni-Novgorod; Curzon's Persia and the Persian Question; Lady Shell's "Eyewitness account of Persian court life in the mid-nineteenth century" and Christopher Mead's thesis on Charles Garnier.

However, despite the many sources that Kay drew on, her story is original, and the ending is significantly different from those of other stories. The most obvious difference is that the famous grasshopper and scorpion scene, which forms the climax of Leroux's novel, has been completely removed. In addition, Kay's novel expands on themes, such as the Erik's time in Persia, that are only alluded to in the original story.

Release details

For several years, Phantom was out of print, and was only available on the secondary market. After the film version of Phantom Of The Opera was released in 2004, interest in the fandom—and prices for the book—rose dramatically. The novel was reprinted in October 2005 by Llumina Press. In Sweden the novel was only printed once, which makes it rather rare. In the Swedish translation, by Lena Torndahl, the whole sequence involving Christine finding a gigantic spider on her pillow and begs Erik to kill it (Whom during the whole novel compared himself with a spider) has been cut.





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