Phantom of the Paradise (1975)
by Bjarne Rostaing
This is exactly what it looks like: a novelization of the 1974 de Palma/Finley film. It has its interesting points, as well as some very different takes on some things from the film; like Bischoff's contemporary novel, it manages to both retain some of the essence of the film it was based on while still bringing something new and unique to the reader's attention, although it falls short of the film in several notable ways.
The ideas that were, for me, the most important and iconic in de Palma's bizarre little film, specifically the modern update of Faust's bargain between Winslow and Swan and the the fact that the two characters were essentially two parts of an entire interpretation of Leroux's Phantom, have been altered so greatly that they become almost unrecognizable here. The plot is about 95% the same, but Rostaing chose to remove the weirder elements of de Palma's film in favor of a grittier, more realistic explanation of events. I'm torn about these choices in general; certainly, it would be difficult to pull off the zany, self-contained world of the film in a short novel, but then again he could have done a lot of interesting things with it, and the new "realistic" version of ths story leans heavily on some nasty tropes and concepts to try to take itself seriously, with mixed results.
The narrative style of this novel takes a little getting used to; while it's gripping, interesting, and usually doesn't overexplain too much, it's still plagued by occasional grammatical and punctuation errors and by an overall brusqueness that at times seems counterproductive to the flow of the tale. I actually really liked the style when I started the book, and the choppiness of it wore on me over the course of the story. I'd call it pretty decent.
We're introduced to the novel and its principal character through the accidental death of Winslow's music teacher; while Winslow himself has nothing to do with it, it's implied that Winslow's extreme musical absorption anhimthe boy led indirectly to the teacher's death. Here we're already seeing the idea of the tragic consequence of genius being suggested in a preliminary form, which will become fully active when Winslow meets Swan later.
Winslow himself has been dramatically changed in characterization. His original role in the film was as the innocent, "human" half of the Phantom character that he and Swan so elegantly presented together, but de Palma's myriad nuances were apparently either lost on Rostaing or (more probably) he just wanted the freedom to write them in his own style; therefore, that intriguing idea of the two personifications of the Phantom's two sides has been removed, and Winslow and Swan are related but distinctly different characters. It's not my favorite choice - I loved the film's two-sided personality conceit, and it saddens me to see it discarded - but I think it could be a valid one for a writer looking to make a new point. (Is Rostaing making a new point? Sadly, I'm not sure.)
As a consequence, Winslow is converted into a much less sympathetic character, probably to make him more "realistic," and also to give him a personality foundation that will allow for his transformation into the Phantom later in the story. He's a pretty nasty and unrelatable person even before anything bad happens to him, obsessed completely with his music and with the steps he will need to take to make sure that it is composed and heard correctly. He barely recognizes other people as "people" at all; his only distress over his music teacher's untimely death is that it will make it harder for him to be musically active, and consistently throughout the book, despite the fact that he meets a great many people, the only ones that have any significance in his world are Swan and Phoenix, both of whom serve as means to his musical end. Rostaing goes so far as to assert that Winslow is "allergic to nature" because he is so far evolved beyond "earthly concerns" and exists in a realm of pure genius, which I thought was a decent way of trying to make the film Winslow's wimpy, weedy nature somewhat more profound (but also, like... why). As a character, he is almost literally incapable of doing anything other than advancing his music, which gives him a good motivation for everything he'll do over the course of the story, and ensures that we don't have to stretch too much to believe it when he goes completely off his rocker.
As a side note, as written here, Winslow could easily be read as autistic, with a strong focus on his subjects of interest, difficulty understanding social cues and expectations from others and a general tendency to be accidentally offensive toward anyone or anything that doesn't interest him, apparently without realizing it. Unfortunately, I don't think this is intentional; Winslow is fairly clearly meant by the author to represent a tortured genius archetype and to stand in for smart and/or talented men everywhere whom the plebes should stop bothering and not giving what they want, and there is no suggestion or meaningful discussion of him operating on a different spectrum. Winslow in this book isn't dismissive and rude toward other people because he's bad at picking up on social cues; he's dismissive and rude toward other people because he has no respect for them and the author thinks he shouldn't have to.
Rostaing gets a little too excited by capital letters, sometimes. Not to the point that it's fully overwhelming or anything, but Important Concepts and Momentous Ideas are always capitalized, a convention which at first amused me but wore thin over time. The idea that the characters, particularly, are acknowledging those ideas as Significant is fine with me, but after it happened throughout the book and popped up frequently in the narrative voice, I found myself wishing that Rostaing would just show us that those ideas were important, instead of using the shorthand of capitalizing them. God knows I get all capital-happy sometimes in these reviews when I say Things I Think You Should Pay Attention To, but I'm not trying to be any kind of an acceptable novel-writer, here.
Despite my mixed feelings on the capital letters, however, I have no tolerance for ill-placed sentence fragments, of which there were a few. Help these orphaned clauses find their families so I can figure out what you're trying to say.
One of the things that is most noticeable for the modern reader is the profusion of profanity and sexually explicit language in this book. It's not at all unusual to find words like "bitch" and "fuck" right in the narrative voice, and of course the characters are not any more inhibited. This is a function, I think, of the time period in which the book was written; it was smack-dab in the middle of the 1970's, and American popular culture was in the middle of a sexual and philosophical revolution. The use of profanity and the very public exhibition of sexuality was a very modern and "edgy" way of writing, and Rostaing is very good at tapping into that mindset. The result for today's reader is that the book seems very dated, a relic from a time when those ideas were still considered shocking and were included in literature merely for the sake of inclusion. Even granting that it didn't age well, it also probably wasn't that great to start with; how often do I really need to read the narrative voice being super shitty toward all female characters who dare to appear? (The answer is functionally never.)
Rostaing crystalizes the amorphous "Faust" song cycle that is so central to de Palma's film (but is never really described or explained that much); he uses the background he has assigned to Winslow, a country boy from Maine, is extended to make the song cycle an opera called Foster, featuring a contemporary Yankee Faust. In the original film, Winslow insisted that the work was a song cycle while the more flamboyant, showman Swan called it a rock opera; in keeping with Winslow's increased ego and ambition in this version, he goes right ahead and thinks of it as an opera himself, and the idea of a song cycle (which, honestly, is a confusingly vague term to the layman not versed in musical idioms) is left by the wayside.
Interestingly, Winslow meets Phoenix much earlier in this version, seeing as how she's in his hotel room when he arrives. Phoenix, too, is very changed in characterization from her original form; de Palma's Phoenix was smart enough to get by in the music business on her talent, but she was also innocent and unwilling to be corrupted by the seedy underpinnings of the business. This is not that Phoenix. She is able and willing to use her sexuality to succeed, and in fact sleeps with Winslow within a day of meeting him right before she runs back off to her usual lover. She is very calculating, always playing the odds of what will benefit her most in her career, and has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to gain an advantage. Despite all that, however, she does have a certain honesty about her, never making any kind of pretense about her goals or decisions. My guess would be that Rostaing found de Palma's character unrealistically naïve and pure for a showgirl trying to make it in Swan's cutthroat business, and changed her in order to add realism to his novel; he makes many, many choices along those lines throughout the book. de Palma's film was as much allegory and social commentary as it was story, but Rostaing is more concerned with the chain of story events and whether or not they seem believable to a certain audience.
We make Swan's acquaintance in this chapter, and he resembles the original character fairly closely; he is obviously business-oriented to the point of amorality, almost totally lacking in emotion, and perfectly content not to care about anyone else unless they benefit him in some way. Rostaing spends a little time describing the stark whiteness of Swan's decor to us, in order to let the cold lack of emotion it represents register. Swan's dialogue with his assistant, Philbin (by the way, that's the last name of the actress who played Christine in the original 1925 film, which fact tickles me every time I read it - it was his name in the film, as well!), makes it clear that he is very aware of the passage of time and its potential ability to change his carefully constructed empire for the worse; initially, I made a note about how this was foreshadowing for the later revelation of his demonic bargain, but as I noted before, Rostaing has elected not to include said bargain. I tried to come up with something else profound to say about it, but I couldn't, really. Alas.
Winslow's skills, even as a comparative "innocent", are characterized as evil from the start, merely as a function of their being so advanced and almost supernaturally impressive. His intensity in composing is described as "a demonic power", and Phoenix informs him that he's "scary" when he plays. While Winslow has done nothing bad yet, Rostaing is making absolutely sure that we know that he is capable of heinous behavior, and further that having this level of genius ability is synonymous with heinous behavior. Again, the book leans heavily on the idea that evil can and should be excused in those who are highly talented, on the theory that they just can't help themselves, a popular excuse for horrible people throughout the ages.
Winslow and Phoenix have their sexual encounter here, and not only is it obvious that she doesn't have the innocence that her film counterpart does, but also that Winslow, too, is no virginal boy and not nearly as worshipfully attached to Phoenix as he was in the movie. Again, from a modern perspective, the narration is almost funny in its frank, intentionally shocking language; it's hard not to giggle at the attempt to make the audience read the character as Shocking and Gritty when Winslow thinks in surprise about Phoenix's performance, "Girls up in Dunphy fucked, but they didn't ball". Again, very much an excessive snapshot in time.
Interestingly, perhaps as an attempt to flesh the characters out more fully since he's not using them in a metaphorical context as de Palma did, Rostaing applies some almost human traits to Swan. Certainly, he gives him an actual reason for his villainy when it comes to stealing Winslow's music; Winslow has a weak and imperfect voice, and can't perform his own music adequately (a fact that, we should note, completely removes the idea of the Phantom's only saving grace being the expression of his music), which leads Swan to steal it in order to give it to artists who can. While this is a step up from the original Swan, who just stole the music and strongarmed Winslow out of the way in order to have his way unimpeded, it's still not particularly believable. Swan still goes right ahead, hacks the music up, and gives it to musical groups like the Juicy Fruits which he knows have no talent. I didn't buy Rostaing's effort to make Swan a little less evil; in fact, it came across as rationalization on Swan's part, which was not only ineffective but also seriously damaged my perception of him as an amoral, powerful figure who doesn't need to make excuses for any bad behavior he decides to indulge in.
It's interesting to note that Winslow is repeatedly presented as angry that his music might be ignored by the public. Since he knows that his music is absolutely brilliant, he is downright offended by the idea that anyone and everyone might not want to listen to it, an idea which is in direct correlation to Leroux's Erik and his eternal resentment that his genius and talent were wilfully ignored by the rest of the world as a result of his deformity (not to mention that the rest of the world was so much in love with music he considered inferior to his own). In fact, if we want to stretch the metaphor, we could even say that in this case Winslow's voice itself functions as the classic deformity, as a physical feature that prevents the Phantom from being accepted into the society he has chosen and which he has no control over, which is an interesting way to turn the original story's dynamics upside-down.
When Winslow returns to his hotel room, he finds both Phoenix and all the money out of his wallet missing. In true Phantom form, he's not really depressed about her absence or betrayed by her theft; he's just upset that he missed out on using her beautiful voice for his musical endeavors. Again, Phoenix-the-pickpocket is hardly an innocent waif like her film counterpart or her long-ago forebear, Christine, but she is resourceful and I applaud her decision not to hang out anymore with a guy who is, frankly, a terrible person even before he starts trying to kill people.
Rostaing does retain some of the sillier, campier elements of de Palma's film now and then, including his covert entrance into Swan's mansion while in drag. The ridiculousness of it is actually give simplicity and reason here, with clear motives and thought processes from Winslow's linear mindset clearly set out for the reader. It works here, though similar attempts to include surreal elements from the film fail somewhat abysmally later in the novel.
The mental kinship between Swan and Winslow is really very intriguing, despite the removal of the whole separate-parts-of-the-same-personalities thing. Far from being sort of disgusted by Swan's overt moral turpitude, as he was in the film, Winslow barely seems to notice it at all here; instead, he muses on how much he likes Swan for the simple fact that Swan appreciates his genius, and must therefore be of equivalent intelligence. He also assumes, somewhat naïvely, that Swan respects music as much as he appreciates it, but nevertheless the relationship between the two is impressively nuanced, especially as we get further into the book. Again, the message is that genius and moral bankruptcy go hand in hand, and that these things are universal constants.
Swan, like Winslow, also sees himself as equal to the composer and of equal ability, though in different areas. Interestingly, he actually sees flaws in Winslow's genius work, which seems to indicate that he is capable of a more critical eye than Winslow, whose inflexible wall of genius prevents him from being able to conceive of bettering himself. It's a different way to present the idea that genius requires creativity or even negativity: Winslow requires Swan, and the music is at its best when the two have a symbiotic relationship. Swan recognizes and respects Winslow's musical genius, while Winslow respects and likes him in return for being so obviously on the same mental level.
What Rostaing refers to as a "violent aspect" of Winslow is introduced and then further developed from the time that Winslow is clued in as to Swan's intentions all the way through his career in prison (the tooth-removal of the movie, by the way, is omitted, probably because it has little purpose in a non-visual setting). Winslow becomes completely unhinged during his time in prison, much in the same way he did in the film, but since Rostaing is trying to be a bit more serious about things here, there's more in-depth examination of exactly what has gone wrong in Winslow's head, most of which has to do with self-delusion and rejection of reality. Again, the implication is that Winslow suffers a break with reality because he's been rejected simply because he's imperfect (i.e., his voice sucks); it's again a parallel between Winslow and the original Phantom, if you base it on that assumption that his voice functions here as his deformity.
Winslow's escape from prison isn't nearly as campy-ridiculous as it was in the film, but it's still highly implausible. Worse, Rostaing completely glosses over it in favor of moving his plot along, which I found unforgivable; if you're going to take a silly film and make it a realistic story, you have to do it for the whole thing. You can't just pick and choose parts to de-ridiculize and leave some others intact. Without the wacky humor of the original scene, I was really annoyed by the completey unrealistic handling of the situation and the refusal to waste any detail on it. You'd think this would have been a good place to illustrate this "realistic" version of Winslow's skills that allow him to overcome, and to get into some of that dirty grit vibe that Rostaing seems to love so much, but apparently not.
Winslow's very simple plan to blow up Death, Inc. and everybody in it, including himself and Swan, makes him much less the innocent, sympathetic victim of the film and brings him closer to Rostaing's vision of a dangerous and vengeful artist, setting out to punish those who have wronged him (similar to some earlier film Phantoms, in fact, such as the 1943 Lubin/Rains film's acid-scarred orchestral refugee or the 1962 Fisher/Lom movie's abused old man trying to stop the performance of his stolen work). Despite his murderous plans, we still get plenty of sense of Winslow's respect for Swan; his recognition in Swan of a similar mind seems to overcome the many indignities perpetrated on his person by said mind. It's one of those supervillain versus James Bond sort of relationships at this point, although sadly less fun.
The idea of sex as commerce in the entertainment industry translates well from the film to the novel, with the same examples and vices used as illustration. The way that sex is so frankly and frequently depicted in this novel seems typical of edgy literature of the time, but the implication here, perhaps accidental, is that sex is a sort of evil that permeates the scene like a cancer. It's comparable to the cultural expectations of the late nineteenth century, actually, in that both viewed sex as a forbidden topic; the only difference is that 1970's American culture gleefully flouted that rule, while the society of Leroux's novel's time only acknowledged it. I can't speculate about Rostaing's personal attitude toward these ideas, but the novel definitely seems to suggest that sex is Bad and that the prevalence of it is Bad, but while female characters are presented almost entirely as sexual fetish objects and held up as an example of this Badness being everywhere in the entertainment industry, male characters are treated as satisfying natural and reasonable urges and still being people outside of their sexual role. Gee, we've never seen that before.
In light of the effective vocal "deformity" that Rostaing has assigned to Winslow, it's almost a little bit gratuitous for him to get his face burned off in the record press, a nod to the traditional deformity of the film it was based on. Certainly his facial deformity doesn't serve much purpose; Winslow's already paddling up Murder Creek, already Swan's sworn enemy, already a genius, and has already been declared dead and effectively removed from society. I almost wish Rostaing had taken a stab at the story without confining it so closely to de Palma's vision, because the idea of a vocal deformity is a very interesting one and I was left cold by the fact that Winslow, apart from a very short period of moping right after it happens, doesn't appear to care about what's happened to his face at all. To make sure nothing inadvertently profound happens with the deformity, Rostaing also removes the corresponding destruction of Winslow's voice that was used in the film (probably because he wanted to avoid the somewhat science-fiction-y voice mimicker that Swan makes for Winslow). The result is a character who has been horrifically disfigured but who we never see deal with any issues that might arise from this, and it's hard not to feel like the author just wanted to include the imagery but not have to apply any icky things like "feelings" and "non-hyper-masculine-aggressive coping issues" to the character.
There's more silent appreciation, longing, fondness, etc. evident between Swan and Winslow. In fact, pretty much any time in the novel that either one encounters or thinks of the other, we're reminded that, hey, they're mental equals and they really like each other despite the artistic mortal combat thing they've got going on. I hadn't really caught a whiff of gay undertones up to this point, but eventually I had to wonder at the subtext. It's a very Roman kind of an ideal: women are great for having babies and maintaing the home, but for truly fulfilling companionship and spiritual connection, you need another man. There are no important female characters in this novel, absolutely none; even Phoenix has been taken off her pedestal of symbolic innocence and love and is just another showgirl, albeit a slightly more talented one. In fact, the book's insistence on constantly showing us Winslow's and Swan's overpowering respect and even affection for one another and then turning around and reminding us how much meaningless sex they have with random women seems like a heavy-handed attempt to avoid any possible suggestion of sexual interest between the two men by constantly trying to ressure the reader of how straight they are. (Which of course doesn't even make sense, because bisexuality exists, but "look, he's with women, he can't be gay" is a time-honored shitty writing convention to stop the audience from suspecting the Big Bad Gayness.)
Winslow is publicly dead and has a hideously disfigured face and not a particularly sunny personality at this point, so I was constantly baffled by the things he kept producing out of his voluminously cloaked pockets. He disabled a guard with ether, causing me to flip back through three chapters trying to figure out when he would have gotten some; likewise, he magically has a high-tech timer for his dynamite, despite the fact that we were told about two paragraphs earlier that he'd just bought the sticks unaltered from someone on the street. I was willing to accept things like this from de Palma because it was so clear that his film wasn't meant to be overly realistic, but from Rostaing it elicits groans of annoyance. I'll say it again: if you're going to take a parody story and make it serious, you have to go whole hog. Just sprinkling it with realism doesn't cut it. I want the realism baked right into the thing. I'm not eating this lazy, half-baked realism lasagna.
Throughout the novel, the constant love/respect festival going on between Swan and Winslow makes it hard to see Phoenix as anything other than peripheral. It's revealed in this chapter that Swan has already slept with Phoenix, who is using her body as currency to work her way up (in direct opposition to her refusal to do so in the film), again making sure that we know she's not the heroine representative of earnest pure talent in a corrupt industry that she was in the movie, because, I dunno, women are evil sex monsters or something. Authors, when literally every female character in your book is about sex, constantly uses sex as a weapon, and never appears in any context without sex being a major factor, it's really not difficult to see a pattern that suggests what your piece of literature seems to think women are for.
Rostaing waffles about Winslow's feelings on his disfigurement, a lot. First, Winslow is "obsessed" with it (which we are told, rather than shown, so don't get over-excited by its legitimacy); then, he doesn't care about it at all except that it impedes his ability to get things done among normal people. Then, he finds Swan's lure, an offer of plastic surgery, compelling enough to return to work for him (largely, we suspect, because he needs a normal face to court Phoenix), but then he turns around and completely forgets to ever even think about the idea again. In the film, with the separate personality facets, this was easy enough to handle; Swan cared about his appearance to an extreme, so Winslow was free to not care much at all. Here, however, Rostaing mishandles the dichotomy between the two and left me ultimately dissatisfied and cranky.
Swan, incidentally, has an active dislike of Phoenix in this novel, which is also disconcertingly inconsistent (he doesn't care about her, then he hates her, then he doesn't hate her, then he hates her again, then he forgets she exists...). As he does in the movie, he states that he "abhors perfection in anyone but himself" as his reason for not liking her, implying that she's perfect, but of course he goes on about her flaws later (personally, I think it would make the most sense if Swan is somewhat insulted by Winslow's preference for Phoenix, but on a subconscious level, but I think that's giving this book too much credit). Rostaing seems to suffer frequently from a clash between retaining elements of de Palma's film and trying to add his own characterizations, and the novel is partially unsuccessful because of his failure to choose one of those and stick with it.
And now we come to Beef. Ah, we all remember Beef, don't we? Who could forget our lovably campy queer-coded Carlotta stand-in? Rostaing's Beef is somewhat different. Swan chooses him because he says the audience can identify with someone "sexually confused", another symptom of the social and sexual upheaval of the 70's. Bizarrely, what Swan means by this is that he later states in the narrative that Beef is bisexual, though he never explains how he knows after only seeing his audition (did they make him put it on his resume or something?). As a matter of fact, as about the only person in the entire novel who ISN'T having any sex, Beef's orientation really doesn't matter much at all without the fantastic visuals and campy humor that the film version used to make it clear that he was fighting cultural norms in a homophobic society, so the entire exercise comes off as a bit tacked-on. The only real purpose it seems to serve is for Rostaing to be insulting about bisexuality, which is not a glamorous reason to spend time talking about it.
Beef is an unknown here, not an established star, which makes Swan's choice of him (in direct contradiction to Winslow's mandate) a little bit more odd; however, Beef is given the surprising new dimension of being able to understand and appreciate Winslow's music, which within the context of this novel makes him intelligent and worthy of respect. Despite his flagrantly stereotypical dialogue (which, again, is out of place without broader context attached to it and makes it a lot more likely to come off as making fun of him rather than as him being subversive), he not only understands the music but comes up with what we are led to believe is a valid interpretation of it, rather than a complete musical massacre as in the film. Of course, Winslow hates it, but Beef is unfortunately not Phoenix and there's nothing to be done about that.
de Palma's critique of show-business, specifically that it is equivalent to selling one's soul, remains intact despite some of Rostaing's other liberties; the people called in to change and rearrange Winslow's music for Beef's benefit, for example, are referred to as "musical whores" for their work, which violates the pure "sanctity" of Winslow's musical vision. (Why do we always have to drag sex workers into this? Let them live their lives, goddamn.)
I mentioned before that the sexual imagery and action is constant in this novel, but this chapter really kicks it into high gear as the story begins to near its climax (har har). Phrases such as "...the Paradise smoked like a Vesuvian vagina..." abound, and everyone, especially Swan, seems to be prone to tossing scatological descriptions and sexual ideas around at the drop of a hat. Moreover, the sexual imagery is almost exclusively feminine; there are very few phallic symbols or mentions in the book, but it's absolutely full of vaginal references (there's a phrase I wasn't expecting to use any time ever), using pretty much every colorful idiom and euphemism and clinincal term out there. The "edgy, sexy" vibe that I think the author is going for is mostly torpedoed by how creepy and unpleasant it is.
Swan gives a lengthy interview to a reporter about Winslow and Beef, making up the facts to suit his need for publicity; as is par for the course by now, he extols Winslow's virtues and genius ad nauseum, despite the fact that said composer is currently terrorizing his staff and making a general nuisance of himself. In comparing Winslow to Beef, who is performing his music, he actually makes reference to the Greek philosophical divide between the Apollonian (Winslow) and the Dionysian (Beef), stating that Winslow was a creature of mental ability and curious innocence while Beef is a "true child of his times" (again with the implication that Beef's deviation from gender and sexuality norms makes him somehow "crazy"). The irony is, of course, that of everybody here Beef is probably the most innocent in terms of actually having done anything wrong and is just trying to get on with his career, while Winslow is the one who's "mad" in a Dionysian mold.
Despite the fact that he absolutely hates what's been done with his music, Winslow nevertheless respects Beef's talent, which again hints to us that he's meant to be a fairly noble figure (or at the very least, tolerable). Musical genius itself is presented in this book as a deep understanding and explanation of truths which leads to the expression of the soul, and the fact that Winslow acknowledges that Beef possesses the talent to truly pull this off also tells the reader that Beef is supposed to be a much nobler figure than the glam rocker of the film was.
It was at this point in the book, when Swan was beginning to lose it and try to kill Winslow, that I realized that Rostaing wasn't going to follow through on the demonic Faustian bargain between Swan, Winslow, and the Devil. My howl of dismayed disappointment was pretty heartrending. Bizarrely, Swan plans to personally assassinate Winslow, something that seriously ruined his image as the near-omnipotent puppetmaster for me; while it does have the added element of further illustrating Swan's respect for his "equal", I was still too deflated from the realization that everything was going to be comparatively humdrum to care.
Again, since this is a serious novel and not a delightfully campy rock-festival film full of glitter, Rostaing has cut some corners. The enjoyable parodies of musical acts from the beginning of the show at the Paradise are removed, which is probably just as well since they wouldn't have translated to the page too well, and the entire show is shortened and condensed in order to move things along. What the show does do, however, is function as a metaphor for the Phantom story itself; the show, with its sexual overtones and Gothic grandeur, is cathartic and entertaining for the audience in the exact same way. The following passage from page 107 sums it up best:
"There was a perfect silence as [Beef] emerged, a rich fulfillment of many private dreams... a real coming-together, members of high and low estate united for once in religio-sexual understanding, though passively."
If that doesn't sound like an explanation of a reader or an audience captivated by the Phantom story, I don't know what does. It's written deeply pretentiously, but it's perfect.
The gratuitous sexual material continues as Phoenix comes on after Beef's death and sings a song that Winslow wrote for her about anal sex (Rostaing's very careful to make sure we know it's about hetero anal sex, and that it's about Phoenix, because again it's for some reason super important that the reader of this book know how Not Gay all these geniuses are). The idea of the song centers around an innocent discovering sensuality, specifically about Winslow discovering it with Phoenix, which in an odd way actually puts him in the Christine role rather than her for a second.
Winslow does get the chance to talk to Phoenix, briefly, and she plunks back into the Christine role with authority at her rejection of him (she doesn't unmask him, but she does demand he unmask and rejects him when he refuses to do so). Her justifiable fear of the murderer she faces (she's aware that he killed Beef a little while ago; RIP Beef, you deserved better) and the idea that she wants her audience (i.e., the upper world) instead of being stuck in passionate obscurity with Winslow is dead-on for a Christine character.
Winslow, after having killed Beef, sits around for a while identifying with him; he's not exactly remorseful, but he does wish that he'd killed Swan instead since it was technically his fault. He blames Swan for "forcing" him to kill Beef, a talented, intelligent man, which brings to mind the original Erik and his inclination to blame the managers, Christine, the siren, etc. when he killed people. Again, Beef is made a noble (and now tragic) figure, not quite on par with Swan and Winslow but nevertheless important in his own right, in contrast to Phoenix (who was the third major character in the film, in which Beef played only a comparatively smaller role).
Swan does have his sexual relationship with Phoenix, but in direct contrast to the film, he doesn't like it much. Phoenix bores him with her monogomous ways and her general innocence, and this version of Swan likes Winslow too much to enjoy torturing him for extended periods of time. Intriguingly, while he's attempting to have a good time with Phoenix, he is "seized by a powerful intruition that is was Winslow who was his real star..." And at that point, ladies and gents, any doubts on my part that this wasn't a weird, repressed love story between Winslow and Swan were dissipated. They're the only "worthy" characters, apart from the deceased Beef in the entire novel, have an unflagging, tragic regard for one another no matter what, and have both discovered that their entire universe hangs on the other. In a novel this sexually charged, it's an obvious reading of the subtext, which is probably why Rostaing keeps yelling NO HOMO at us at the top of his printed lungs.
In a cool little aside, Phoenix wanders off upon waking and plays with some of Swan's technological gadgets, thinking of them as "a kind of musical instrument". It's a nice touch that gives Swan his own little area of Phantom-like prowess and power, which of course reinforces the fact that he is Winslow's equal in genius (simply focused in a different direction).
Then, a very subtle comparison of Swan to Hitler. I don't even know what it's for, since it doesn't seem connected to what's going on. It's just a lazy way of telling the audience that Swan is super evil.
The examination of Swan's motive for deciding to kill Phoenix is very interesting, and telling. For one thing, he fears that Winslow will disappear with her and never produce anything of value again for being so involved with her, squandering his genius on the "peasant" (because, of course, Phoenix isn't worthy like the boys here). Better than that, however, is when he states that Phoenix's removal will remove Winslow's distraction, and make sure that he sees "the necessity of Swan in his life." However twisted the attraction may be, Swan and Winslow have both ceased even thinking of life without the other, and each seeks to strengthen his hold - Swan in trying to keep Winslow with him, and Winslow in trying to make sure Swan doesn't escape before he can kill him. Swan believes that Winslow will get over Phoenix soon enough and see the benefits of staying with him, so he's somewhat unprepared for Winslow's extreme reactions at the end of the novel; Swan and Winslow are, in the end, horrifying in fundamentally different ways, and it is this inability to understand Winslow's motivations that does Swan in.
The grand spectacle of the final show is grossly short-changed and under-described, which gives the book the unattractive appearance of a homework assignment someone raced to finish so they could go out with their friends. Winslow jumps down on stage and accidentally foils the sniper's shot, which kills Philbin instead of Phoenix, and then he goes after Swan with a knife (none of that pesky Faustian business here to get in the way of good old-fashioned murder). It's a nice touch that Rostaing has Swan don a helmet right before the scene, meaning that both men are wearing similar helmeted masks for this final confrontation. Swan begins to cry when it becomes clear that Winslow is going to kill him, and I was afflicted with a sympathy that I'm not sure Rostaing intended to elicit; Swan isn't crying out of fear, but because he has predicted Winslow's behavior wrongly. He misjudged the other man and thought that they were the same, when in reality they are not, and he is betrayed and dashed when he realizes that he has, at some point, lost Winslow irretrievably.
Then everybody but Phoenix dies, the end. Nobody achieves any real redemption.
I tried really hard to give this book the benefit of the doubt for a lot of reasons, including time period and the fact that film novelization is tricky, but it's just not great. It loses the best parts of the film it's trying to novelize, it redesigns characters but doesn't add anything to the narrative when it does and makes most of them much less interesting and sympathetic than their forbears, and it abandons the film's thoughtful themes in favor of new messages that are less interesting at best and actively offensive at worst (but not in the way the book tries to be offensive, where it wants to shock readers into confronting unexamined reality). It's not the worst thing I've ever read, but it's just not good, and in comparison with its source material it's very, very disappointing.