Angel of the Opera

Written by Sam Siciliano

Otto Penzler Books, Macmillian Publising Company, 1994

Your mentioning of Quasimodo and Notre Dame helped me put our Phantom in his proper place. This grand and absurd edifice with all its splendor of marble, bronze, and gold, this gaudy baroque exterior built upon a skeleton of solid steel, has almost a life of its own, but it could not exist without its Phantom. His presence is everywhere; this is his universe, his world, his reflection. Hugo said Quasimodo was the very soul of Notre Dame; well, le Fantôme is the soul of l'Opéra de Paris.

The problem is that he is alone... Everything about him speaks of a being subject to a frightful loneliness, a profound separation from all other men.

~Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes Meets The Phantom of the Opera
When I first began reading this novel, I admit that I braced myself for a harsh, cold portrayal of my poor, unhappy Phantom. This re-telling, after all, has none other than Sherlock Holmes investigating this unusual, macabre case. Even with my almost total ignorance of the famous English inspector, I was well aware of his reputation for "misogyny" and "prejudice." Additionally, the author is a man, which made me doubt that this would be another love story. If anything, I feared a hokey disaster loaded with self-contradictions and shamelessly bad dialog.

Even now, I sometimes fail to expect the unexpected.

Siciliano manages to keep much of the details of Leroux's original story while simultaneously giving one of the most sympathetic portrayals of Erik that I've ever seen. He keeps in the spirit of Leroux by emphasizing the elements of mystery, not the horror or the romance that I have seen in most other cases. With very few exceptions, his research and understanding of issues ranging from the Paris Opera House to gypsy culture outdoes Susan Kay herself! This is true at least for Erik's years as the Phantom. One exception includes the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Hardcore Sherlock Holmes fans (and probably not-so-hardcore) will be disappointed to learn that the faithful Dr. Watson is not included in this story. This time, the story is told entirely from the perspective of Dr. Vernier, a cousin of Holmes. While some readers may be miffed that such a liberty would be taken, I enjoyed it immensely. Points of view make all the difference, as Leroux, McMullan, and Kay already show quite well.

I confess that my knowledge of Holmes is, at best, miniscule. I've never read any of the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I've only watched a couple of A&E episodes starring Jeremy Brett: "The Hound of Baskervilles," "The Red-Headed League," and "The Devil's Foot," among a few others. It is this particular episode, "The Devil's Foot," that "convinces" me that Holmes may not be TOO out of character in his attitude about Erik and Christine. I even find the portrayals of Raoul and the Persian "believable" at times, based on what little I know of 19th century politics, although not really necessary for a sympathetic portrayal of Erik. But that portrayal of La Carlotta! Now REALLY! (LAUGHS) That was hysterical!

SPOILER: I've seen mixed reactions concerning the "happy ending" in this book. Hardcore ALW phans seem to somehow find it "insulting to Erik's character" (a statement I find strangely self-contradictory and never argued with any strong points). Others get a guilty pleasure out of it. My own opinion is that, while I have no problem with Erik moving on after Christine (I actually prefer it that way oftentimes), I have difficulty imagining Sherlock Holmes as Cupid. I do not intend for that to be insulting. Just keep in mind what I've already said; I am very Holmes-ignorant.

I say read it unless you are such a hardcore Holmes fan that you feel "offended" by points of view that are not Watson's. Hardcore phans of Raoul and/or the Persian may not like it either... or just find it amusing. If you do not fit into those categories, I think you might enjoy it even if it is just to see Siciliano's campy sense of humor. Like McMullan's portrayal, this one shows many characteristics of the Erik I've known for a very long time.

Leroux | Kay | Meyer | Siciliano | D'Arcy | Forsyth

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