Echo's Reviews > Phantom

Phantom by Susan  Kay
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's review
Sep 30, 2007

it was ok
bookshelves: romance, duds
Recommended for: Phans and only phans

If Kay had stopped where The Phantom of the Opera book and musical started, she would have had a decent book on her hands. Despite turning Erik, the Phantom, into a terrible Gary Stu, she did give him an interesting and detailed history. In fact, if you stop reading the book before Christine comes in, I'd imagine it's pretty enjoyable. However, I kept reading, and there's my problem.

(Possible SPOILERS)

Once Christine and Raoul entered the story, I moved from wariness, to shock, to disbelief, to tears.

First of all, the relationships are not at all true to the characters. In other versions, Christine turns to Raoul for help because of her fear of the Phantom. In this novel, Christine only runs to Raoul when she's angry at Erik because she's jealous of his cat or because he's scared her. Raoul becomes little more than a tool for a tempermental little girl to punish her would-be lover.

Raoul isn't much better. In the other stories, he's patient and kind to Christine. He sticks by her side like the loyal guy he is. In Phantom, when Christine won't let him have his way, he stalks off to sulk until his next encounter with her. Since Christine seems to have mysteriously lost her fear of the Phantom, and therefore doesn't need to turn to Raoul for protection, Raoul becomes nothing more than a prodding figure. He's continually trying to cut Christine's ties with Erik, and all the while it's not what Christine REALLY wants, but she goes along with Raoul because she's confused.

Then there's Christine and Erik. In other versions, the Phantom has the shadow of his disfigurement hanging over him and it distorts his soul. In those versions, it's Christine who shows him love and kindness and helps him find the good in himself. In Phantom, it's the other way around. Despite his tendency to murder people and kidnap people and act like a sociopath, Erik becomes the enlightened figure in Kay's novel. The more Christine is around him, the more educated she becomes, the more deeply she thinks about things. She starts to become ashamed of herself because she doesn't have the courage to touch him. She realizes that the Phantom has loved her as no man has loved a woman before. And yet, I'm not convinced. Because he lies to her? Kills in order to possess her? Yells at her for, say, asking him to kill a spider? Wants to possess her even if it is not what she wants/not what is best for her? Or perhaps it's because he is only content to let her go (and yet STILL doesn't) when he realizes that she likes him best.

It occurred to me that this was the sort of story I would expect to read in a fan fiction, where the story didn't turn out the way some fangirl wanted it to, so she twists and distorts the situations and the characters to fit her own means.

Don't get me wrong. I adore the Phantom. I think he's a phenomenal character. But this, to me, is not a great love story. It is the story that ignores the flaws of the Phantom, and therefore makes his redemption meaningless. In the other stories, when Christine shows him love, she helps him let go of the obsession that made him want to possess her at any cost. Instead, he becomes a noble figure as he realizes that she loves Raoul and he lets them both go, even though it pains him. It's a bittersweet ending, no doubt, but it has an integrity. In Phantom, I felt like that was lost. After all, he loses his moment where he shows his love for her for the first time by allowing her to leave with Raoul. In Phantom, we're robbed of that moment. Instead, the only side we ever see of the Phantom and his love for Christine is the selfish, "I want her because I love her and I'll do whatever I have to do to make her stay with me to make me happy," side of him. In the end of Phantom, I wanted to cry because I felt that all three of the characters were cheated in order to make a "happy ending." But the happy ending, when it is the wrong ending, is not the best ending.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 30, 2007 – Shelved
October 5, 2007 – Shelved as: romance
June 3, 2010 – Shelved as: duds

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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Judy Phantom is one of my favorite books. However, your take on Susan Kay's version of the story rang so true, that I had to wonder how I could love a book that portrayed some of the most important characters (Christine and Raoul) in such an annoying, unsympathetic way.

I think it's because much of the story was told from Phantom's point of view. He knows he's a bit deranged, but he still conveys his mindset with reasoning behind every vile act. Most people tend to rationalize their behavior this way, even if they're not sociopaths. From his point of view he is noble. If Kay had written him as an evil person, the book would have failed completely.

"If Kay had stopped where The Phantom of the Opera book and musical started, she would have had a decent book on her hands."

The ending is the weakest part of this book, but for me the rest of the book was strong enough that the weak ending didn't kill it. I don't like what Kay did with Raoul and especially Christine, but I've never read Gaston Leroux's version either. If I had, I might have seen her attempt at rewriting his story differently. Still, I agree that ending the story with the entrance of Christine would have made the book much stronger. I can totally see why you didn't like the book.

Briana You have said all that I wanted to say about this book. Thank you.



Korrina Such a GREAT review exactly what I say about it! Erik is just not the same in this book, and you pointed it out.

The Once and Future King I'm glad I read your review, that way in case I do read it I'll be on my guard for such disapointments. I do however think that despite his flaws in the original book, he is an enlightened figure and she does learn from him.

Thing is, he learns just as much from her. If not more. From what you've written it would seem that this novel losses that.

Hannah I couldn't agree more!

Andrea I agree the book changes at the point where Christine enters, and I wish that wasn't so. I read this as a teenager many years ago and thoroughly loved it, so I give it 5 stars for being one of my favorite books of all time. I still enjoy reading it out of love for Erik's character, who I think is one of the most interesting characters ever created. But I was never fully onboard with Christine's decisions and the fanfiction-esque "happy ending". Even as a kid, I knew it was a weird ending. In hindsight (after taking several women's studies classes and becoming a social worker), Christine is most certainly trapped in an abusive relationship. She was groomed as a child to love her abuser, and goes back to him in the end despite all the red flags as to why she shouldn't. This would never have happened in the original Leroux story, since Christine is very much aware that Erik is a sociopath and wants to escape. When she kisses him and shows a moment of compassion, it is because she is a good, strong person who takes one for the team, not because she has a dependent personality problem and is easily manipulated by dominant men.

I do like how Kay explores the development of Erik's sociopathic tendencies and shows that abusers are human beings with their own stories and history of abuse that cause them to act the way they do. It is, in reality, a vicious cycle for everyone involved. And I like how Christine is portrayed as understanding Erik on a psychological level that no one else does, except perhaps Nadir, and is able to show the only compassion from a woman that Erik has ever experienced, even at risk to her own well-being. (Unfortunately, that's what a lot of abused women think when they are in those relationships.) And I like how Kay shows how abusers can be very successful at attracting victims, no matter how unattractive the abusers appear to everyone else. (It happens in real life all the time. A woman in an abusive relationship once told me she stayed with the guy because their love was like a "fairy tale" that no one on the outside could understand. Eesh...)

So yes, Kay's book would have been much stronger as a work of literature by staying true to the original story in which Christine teaches Erik that power and control is not the way to earn love. Erik is supposed to demonstrate his humanity by letting Christine go and dying a redeemed man, rather than following through on his criminal scheme. In Kay's book, Erik is rewarded at the last minute for all of his hard work at scheming and manipulating Christine into loving him. Do I as a fangirl love that Erik and Christine get together in the end? Yes, I do! Is it a pretty sick and twisted at the same time? Unfortunately, it is...I guess my overall opinion is that the book really does suffer from fangirl syndrome in the last few chapters, but Kay also portrays psychological processes and cycles of abuse in a realistic way. This makes the story interesting from a psychological point of view, but not a moral point of view.

Echo Point to you. I think part of the reason it bothers me so much is I know fans who don't even recognize that there's anything wrong with the relationship between Christine and Erik. I got into a long argument with a friend who insisted that, in the original story, Raoul was the character who acted like an abuser, not the Phantom. It just floors me. I love the Phantom's character. I really do. I sympathize with him. But it worries me when girls can't even see how dangerous he is from an objective point of view. I know it's just a book, but if someone can't see it in fiction, will they notice it in real life?

Andrea Echo wrote: "But it worries me when girls can't even see how dangerous he is from an objective point of view. I know it's just a book, but if someone can't see it in fiction, will they notice it in real life? "

Exactly! I worry for the generation of Twilight fanatics even more...

Echo Amen to that!

message 10: by Violet (new) - added it

Violet Incredible Wow, yes, thank you Echo for posting this-it is very true what you said about fangirls not realizing that there's anything wrong with Erik and Christine's relationship! Now I must admit, I am a fangirl myself, and I would love nothing more than for Erik and Christine to have their happy ending; BUT it is hard to ignore Erik's violent temper and selfish tendencies. If he had more of a moral code that he lived by, or wasn't so selfish/violent, they would be perfect for each other! But that's why we get the bittersweet ending, I'm afraid. Anyways, totally agree with your review of the book :)

message 11: by A.J. (new) - rated it 4 stars

A.J. It reads like fanfiction? It IS fan fiction. Some of the greatest novels of all time were fanfiction: Dante's Inferno, for example. Doesn't make them bad.

"Phantom" is based directly on Leroux's book, not the watered-down romance Andrew Lloyd Weber concocted. I think that's where you're getting your version of the Erik/Christine/Raoul triangle.

The ending was a bit contrived for my tastes, but the way this narrative went there weren't many other options for paternity. Kay had Erik win, so who else would the father have been?

message 12: by Echo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Echo I've read Leroux's book. If anything, I thought Weber made the Phantom's character more sympathetic than Leroux and would consider "Phantom" to be a better companion piece to the "watered down romance" version than the original.

Andrea I remember reading somewhere that Kay was inspired to write this after seeing the musical. But she definitely drew Erik's backstory directly from Leroux, which Weber did not (especially in the movie version.) Leroux's novel describes Erik as sickly and gross (smells like death for example), while Weber tried to make him sexy enough that Christine was actually attracted to him. I think Kay's version is a good mix of both.

Indigo.plume Did you ever consider that maybe the author wrote the book in an "unreliable" point of view. Meaning that the book was written from Erik's skewed point of view, and it's up to the reader to decide whether or not all the details of his encounters with Christine happened as he says they happen in the story. Unreliable points of view are not often spelled out by the author.

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Keep in mind, this story is amazingly interesting and is beautifully written. Susan Kay wrote this book in her thoughts of who the characters are.
Please don't be too angry with my comment. I do respect your opinion towards this book, all I wanted to do is point out the positives in this story and what Susan Kay seems to be trying to convey in this book.

message 16: by Echo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Echo I'm actually pretty OK with it all until the spot where Christine and Raoul come on scene. If the book had ended there, I probably would have given it a really favorable rating. But the ending killed it for me.

Casey @Indigo plume There are multiple narrators and the "unreliable narrator" is usually in past tense. You can also tell an "UN" when they are lying to the audience and later retract it to either another character or the audience its self. Their usually very deceitful and lie or deny things that they/the reader know are true.

message 18: by Clare (new) - added it

Clare Cannon Excellent review!

message 19: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca What other books do you recommend then? (Phantom retellings)

message 20: by Echo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Echo Rebecca wrote: "What other books do you recommend then? (Phantom retellings)"

I've only read two. It pains me to say it, but of the two, I would definitely recommend this one. No contest.

message 21: by Toni (new) - added it

Toni  • Reviews & Randomness Raoul was whinny in the original book though...

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