Cannonball Read V: The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth
Ever find yourself wondering what happened to that rascally character the Phantom of the Opera? Are you one of the over 50 million people who have enjoyed/endured Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production and wondered “well, then what happened?” The Phantom of Manhattan was meant for you. But don’t read it.
I’m telling you not to read because although the continuation of the Phantom and Christine’s story from the play could be intriguing, it is handled with a rather ham-fisted delivery. What of the original source material, Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra? Frederick Forsyth in his preface, which is longer than any of the chapters, outlines all the ways that Leroux failed as an author and praises the masterful touch Andrew Lloyd Webber applied to the source material and fixed it for the stage making it so attractive the masses that flock to see it. This is a sequel to the play and is heavily influenced by Webber. As the title indicates this portion of the story is set against the backdrop of Manhattan, where the Phantom escaped to after the events of Phantom of the Opera.
The book bounces from point of view to point of view, slowly putting the pieces of the narrative together. While this is quite effective in keeping the mysterious air of The Phantom going, it also leaves the other characters underdeveloped and barely more than a voice in the reader’s mind. This strategy initially turned me off to the work and never really won me over. Perhaps what Forsyth really should have written was a play. There is a vast difference in the way plays and novels are structured. The episodes from each character’s perspective work well as scenes but are generally failures as chapters.
Perhaps worst of all is the character the reader comes to know best - a young newspaper reporter - does not have a consistent characterization. While the first fifteen chapters are short and all staged over three months, the sixteenth chapter jumps 41 years ahead and brings us back into contact with the now retired newspaperman as he tells a college class about the story he failed to put together, the story of Erik and Christine. This is a jarring chapter and should have served as the epilogue but instead Forsyth also throws in a three page epilogue outlining the fates of the surviving characters and unleashing a little bit more mystery.
Don’t read it. This one is a poorly written waste of time with a storyline you could guess for yourself once I mention (SPOILER) that Christine found herself with child shortly after that fateful night in the bowels of the Palais Garnier but before finding herself married to Raoul.
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