I chose "Phantom" because I assumed it would be long winded and dry. I
mean, with an author named "Gaston Leroux" I knew it was French, and I've never been interested in or impressed by anything French (sorry, France lovers.) I mean, sure, I realize it's a huge success and a very, VERY famous book / musical / movie / Halloween costume, but I still figured I'd be biting a bullet and getting a crappy book out of my way.
I felt justified in my decision through the prologue and the first few pages, which were pretty long winded and boring... but that was about it. I read the whole book in less than 24 hours, unable to put it down for more than an hour or two at a time before I'd pick it back up again. I read it the whole way through my kid's naps and well after everyone had gone to bed. When the battery on my Nook finally gave out two pages from the end of the story, I thought I was going to die (which, in my opinion, is the ONLY drawback to e-readers.)
"Phantom of the Opera" starts out in the Paris Opera House, which is supposedly haunted by the "Opera Ghost." All kinds of strange happenings are blamed on the Opera Ghost, and although everyone jokes about it, everyone kind of takes it seriously too. The managers of the Opera House are retiring and being replaced by two other managers, and during the farewell celebration for the departing managers, an employee is found hanging in one of the cellars. It is immediately blamed on the Opera Ghost, and the departing managers confide in the new managers that the Opera Ghost, or O.G., has left them notes in the past and that they actually abide by a list of rules he left for them. Most importantly, O.G. demands a monthly sum of money and insists that Box Five never be sold, so that he can use it at his discretion to watch the shows whenever he feels like it. The new managers disregard the list as a joke, determined to prove that O.G. does not exist.
The parallel plot line involves Christine Daae, an up-and-coming opera singer, and Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, childhood companion of Christine. Raoul is so far above Christine socially that a romantic relationship is considered an impossibility for them, but that does not change the fact that they are in love with one another, although neither one has yet admitted it. When Raoul goes to Christine's dressing room to confront her with his feelings, he is pulled into a whirlwind of strange events going on in her life. The most dramatic event is her interactions with "the Angel of Music," a being who sounds suspiciously similar to the Opera Ghost. Christine believes that her late father sent the Angel to her to teach her to sing better and help her succeed, and only too late realizes that she is in real danger, and that things are not as they seem.
The two plot lines come together pretty explosively during a performance in which the star of the show, a woman for whom Christine is the understudy, begins inexplicably croaking like a toad. During the commotion that ensues, a chandelier comes crashing down from the ceiling, killing a woman who was a guest of one of the new managers. The new managers, for their part, had defied O.G.'s demand to put Christine in as star that night, and had further aggravated him by watching the show from his "private" seats in Box Five. After this performance, the managers disbelief in the Opera Ghost is shaken, and Christine disappears for two weeks.
I think I'm going to end my summary there, about two-thirds of the way through the story... there's just too much to the ending that could be given away by going further. I'll just say that although there was a lot of things happening that I predicted/assumed, there were a lot of twists that I didn't expect, and by the end of the story I couldn't believe I had ever thought that it would be stuffy and uninteresting.
I would recommend this book to anyone, almost as much as I recommended "Rebecca"... I think it could appeal to almost any kind of reader, although I would probably classify it as a romance. Or maybe "romantic suspense." Whatever the genre, it's a book that I know I will read again, and is the first that makes me want to track down one of the movie versions. I'm kind of dying to see how well it does or doesn't translate to screenplay... it better be as awesome as the book, that's all I'm saying.
(And I'm really confused as to why the movie stills I've seen portray the "Phantom" with a mask that covers about 1/3 of his face... in the book, that would definitely not be enough. I guess the movies have to make him a heartthrob. Shame. Confused? Maybe you should read it......)