The Return of the Phantom: Le Coeur Loyal (2007)
by Etienne de Mendes
This book is a masterpiece among disasters.
I only just graded this as an F, and already I regret how little it manages to convey the depths of my combined horror and morbid entertainment in regards to this book. This book is such a fucking wreck that I seriously can't communicate my feelings in a single letter. I need words. Lots of words. And since de Mendes also needed lots of words (almost 500 pages of them, holy shit), this is a long ride, my friends. Bring snacks.
This book is huge, to begin with. It is 497 pages long from start to finish, with a quick-and-dirty estimate by me of about 190-200,000 words. That's the kind of volume that makes people hesitant to attempt even famously excellent pieces of literature... and baby, this is not one of those.
I entered this book in a fairly light-hearted fashion, to be honest, because while the back cover copy suggested to me that it wasn't going to be high literature, it also made it look like it was going to be more hilarious than awful. Here's what the author has to tell those of us who are considering whether or not to pick this book up and take it home with us:
"The tale of the Phantom of the Opera did not end in the labyrinth beneath a Paris theater. In your hands you hold a story of love and madness, of triumph over the damage of ridicule and cursed rejection. A determined soul, one capable of enduring a dark and unholy journey, managed to find its way back into the arms of the mate Destiny had ordained for it.
Imagine the woman discovering, almost too late, the identity of her true love, a man she'd let slip through her fingers. Would she not ignore pride and search out a way to get him back? Yes! Christine Daae clawed a path to Erik, and he in turn mastered a demented part of himself in order to affect a degree of sanity and possess her. But were these two sets of glorious arms enough to hold a love spawned in hellish mystery?
Let us see, brave soul, let us see."
So, you know, we don't really even have to open this one to identify some of the perennially popular greatest hits of self-published Phantom fiction: ridiculously over-dramatic prose, uncomfortable power dynamics of possession and ownership equaling romance, and the deep and important way that if you're not physically crying over Erik's hard life at this exact moment you are pond scum. But we've been told that we're brave to attempt this book, and now that I've read through it, I agree. It takes courage to dare this book. This book has probably killed less hardy people.
One of the things we can just start out being mad about out of the gate is the technical inconsistency of the writing. While sentence structure and flow aren't terrible here and have a serviceable ability to demonstrate logical continuity and paint reasonably vivid pictures of the action, the lack of copyediting is apparent. We’ve got abundant punctuation and formatting errors, homophone mismatches, and an annoying habit of swapping perspective between characters at inopportune moments.
The very first paragraph of the book drops three very necessary hyphens from words that need them, leaving us looking at something that is "gold painted", learning about the "post Napoleon" era, which sounds like a command to send the venerable former Emperor something in the mail, and hearing about a "three story" building. Word choice is also a fairly common problem - many sentences are in the right general neighborhood of what they're trying to say but fail to quite reach the word they're looking for, such as when on that same first page "a strong clan of dark-skinned g*psies touting brilliant scarves about their heads" are apparently telling everyone how great their headwear is for no reason (and, as is unfortunately usual in Phantom literature, throwing around an ethnic slur with no apparent knowledge that it's incredibly offensive).
This is a lot of focus on technical stuff, but please remember with me that there are almost five HUNDRED pages of this, and it wears on you after a while.
The story opens in the year 1873, which obviously sets the events of Leroux's novel about a decade earlier than generally suggested, most likely because of the same timeline being used in the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film based on Lloyd Webber's musical. This book likes to pretend it's very cosmopolitan and based on a whole bunch of different versions of the Phantom story, but usually it's just painting a detail here or there over an otherwise clearly rendered continuation of Butler's growly-voiced, constantly-bewildered Phantom. And speaking of, only the "upper right quadrant" of the Phantom's face is masked, so you know that in spite of how much everyone is inclined to cry about Erik's accursed ugliness, he's not exactly rocking a full-bodied disfigurement of Leroux-like proportions. As usual, I wonder about the thought process behind looking at a character who's supposed to be visually terrifying, and not only saying, "My novel doesn't have the constraints of a stage musical but I'm going to continue using a half-mask instead of a full one anyway," but also adding on, "HALF A MASK IS TOO MUCH! PEOPLE WILL THINK HE LOOKS TOO GROSS!"
Meg has been married at this point, post-Leroux's-story, to a gentleman named Jean, who we will later see confirmed to be the Baron Castelot de Barbezac, who of course Leroux mentioned in his own prologue. Yay for continuity, and for Meg getting some awesomeness!
Apparently, Madame Giry, the Phantom, and someone you'll never guess (hint: it's the daroga, who else would it be?) left a burnt corpse in the cellar of the opera house to be found by the authorities, so everyone besides the three of them officially believes Erik to be dead and the story can begin from there.
Chapter 1: Herald Back the Dead
Hoo boy. Welcome to page 3, y’all:
"Hearts take warning here. Let this tale of woe and triumphs unfold to those whose allegiance to the myth enshrouding the truth proves them loyal. And know this brave soul, the Phantom's voice calls thee 'friend'."
Hey, we're brave again! (Well, if there were a comma in the right place, we would be.) This is clearly intended to be somewhat in the style of Leroux's no-this-is-real-honest reporting, but it's not exactly working, unfortunately.
Here, confusingly, we hear that Christine and Raoul were married in the year 1871... so wait, then this is set even earlier than the 2004 film? Like... good god, people. Had the Prussians even left yet? Romance in the time of the Commune? Does anyone actually know what was going on in Paris at this time? Is there a hole in the space-time continuum that robs authors of all knowledge of Parisian history in regards to this story so that they literally can't help themselves?
So, here we will have set up, in a few introductory paragraphs, this book's most important and constantly repeated mantra: Christine is an evil monster for leaving the Phantom and marrying Raoul, and she deserves to be soundly and constantly punished for abdicating her responsibility to make him happy. Before the page ends, we learn that even though it's been two years, she regularly "tears her clothes and pulls her hair" in despair over her own actions, frequently begs God to forgive her for "throwing away the Angel of Music so callously", and is generally anguished and wants to die.
I just... so many books do this, and it just makes me so sad. Authors so frequently excoriate Christine for not wanting to stay with the Phantom, ignoring the fact that he lied to her for her entire life, stalked her, kidnapped her, abused her, terrified her, murdered people, sabotaged her workplace and the source of her livelihood, and threatened everyone she loved in pursuit of his own goals. Yet somehow, the idea that he did all those things FOR LOVE motivates many writers to forgive them and to correspondingly blame poor Christine for not responding with love herself, as if somehow the fact that he loved her meant that he was allowed to do anything he wanted to her and excused every terrible sin and act of terror he committed. It feeds into a very awful cultural idea that men who go out on a limb FOR LOVE should be rewarded by the affection of the woman they want regardless of who she is, what she wants or whether she has any interest in him, because she's merely a reward for his devotion rather than a person who gets to make decisions herself; and therefore Christine is derided - constantly and without mercy, in this book - as a horrible selfish person who has committed the ultimate in sins by refusing to do what this guy wanted her to do just because he wanted it.
There’s a glimmer of an idea that could have worked here. Christine obviously went through a great deal of trauma during the events of the previous story, and even though she was very seriously mistreated by the Phantom, she also had a strong emotional attachment to him and was conflicted about what to do. It’s not at all outside the realm of possibility for her to have traumatic lingering issues, a mental illness, or mixed feelings - in fact, it would be more strange if she didn’t! But that, unfortunately, does not seem to be what’s happening here. Christine just hates herself for leaving the Phantom, who deserved her and who she “threw away” by not wanting to be terrified and maybe murdered by, and the narrative agrees. This is not a sympathetic portrait of a Christine who is haunted by the complicated and frightening things that happened to her; it’s a portrait of a woman who did wrong and deserves to suffer for it.
These poor Christines. I just want to go find all of them and invite them to go be in a club with me where we hit entitled dudes who don't understand that murdering the competition is never the way to a woman's heart in the face with tennis rackets. Also, maybe the authors who do this.
But, at any rate, Christine is miserable because she refused Erik's true and undying and excessively abusive form of love, and that's going to be going on in a dizzying seesaw of approval/demonization for this entire book. When she's nice to Erik and doing what she's "supposed to" - i.e., loving him and doing what he wants - she's the best lady ever to exist. When she's not doing any of that (or anyone happens to remember that she used to not do that because god forbid we ever forget), she's a dirty slimebag.
de Mendes does not spend a lot of time in this novel bothering with things like "setup" or "plausibility" or "any reason any of this is happening", so by page 5 Erik has reappeared after being gone and presumed dead for the past two years, allowed Christine to see him stalking her in the marketplace again like some kind of bad straight-to-video sequel of their previous relationship, and she is "elated" and wants to "bolt from this store into [his] arms." Why on earth she ever left the Phantom to marry Raoul in the first place if she was this torn up over not being with Erik is not addressed, nor is there any hint of either surprise (as in holy shit isn't that guy dead is someone fucking with me) or fear (as in holy shit that guy is a murderer who used to stalk me). Nah. It's cool.
Raoul is the Count de Chagny now, by the way, and Christine his Countess. Not only does this book include and refer to the death of his older brother Philippe in Leroux's novel, but it actually becomes a fairly major motivator for Raoul's character, which is one of the few things I really enjoyed. Philippe's death continues to affect events in this book at various points in time, which is a poignant choice and one not often employed by writers that primarily base their work on later versions of the story.
Christine (whose eyes "glassed over in tears" on page 6, which sounds unfortunate for her health) is very take-charge in this scene, not only confronting Erik but also setting up a meeting with him at her father's tomb, mostly on her own initiative. I am often torn about this book's Christine - on the one hand, she's very forthright, knows what she wants, and takes action to get it, all things I can applaud in a heroine, especially one so often demoted to the status of the hero's prize. On the other hand, see the aforementioned need to constantly punish her at every turn for daring to make those decisions - de Mendes allows Christine to choose her own path, but her decision-making is only important and/or acceptable if it aligns with Erik's wants, and if she chooses something he doesn't like she ends up run through the wringer while the author metaphorically shakes an admonishing finger at her.
I've been referring to the Phantom as Erik already in this review because after five hundred pages in the wilderness I can barely remember the opening chapters, but there's some mention here of the fact that Christine does not in fact know his name until he tells it to her here, which definitely points to more influence from the Lloyd Webber musical and subsequent 2004 film in which he was nameless.
And now, by page 8, Christine and Erik are banging inside her father's tomb, with no explanation of what the hell is going on, how they are interacting after years apart and the trauma of their last time together, or any kind of anything that would help this make sense except for a dramatic speech from Christine about how she needs Erik and will die without Erik and is "his for the taking".
I have many questions (oh, so many questions, throughout this entire mess, but let's start here):
1) What's the psychological analysis here? Christine is a character who originally thought that this guy wasn't even human, then learned that he was under traumatic circumstances, then escaped and married someone else and has presumed him dead for years, but her first thought is to jump straight to sexual relations. Couldn't we have spent some time exploring that? No?
2) If Christine hates being married to Raoul so much (and she does, she tells us unrelentingly), why does she choose to set up regular booty calls (IN HER FATHER'S TOMB) with Erik here instead of running away with him? This makes sense out of Christines with genuinely torn feelings between the two men, but de Mendes wants us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this Christine hates spending time with, having sex with, and committing her life to Raoul, so what exactly is her motivation to not just leave, especially now that she has re-found the stalker who is apparently her soulmate? Could we at least talk about possible economic motivators, such as Christine being financially dependent on Raoul, if you want to make this work? No?
3) If they've already found one another, consummated their love and passionately declared that they want to be with only one another forever and no one can stop them, what is even in the rest of this book? We have 489 pages still to go!
Erik's physical appearance isn't truly described for a while, but mention is made here of his "imperfect lips", which is clearly a callback to the famous stage makeup for the Phantom in the 1986 Lloyd Webber show, and his eyes are described as "golden", which hearkens further back to Leroux's spectral antagonist.
Oh, man. Check out page 9:
"This time their lips found each other in intoxication, and something wonderful happened, something that rarely occurs among men and women. A transfiguring event so momentous, that its incidence upon the earth causes angels to stop and stand in silent admiration. Erik and Christine's souls fused. They were simply one person, one entity. The rift of self-awareness dissolved away by the magic of sheer ecstasy."
It's been a little while since we read a novel that went in for the idea that Erik's and Christine's souls are beautifully but tragically welded together by some sort of spiritual blowtorch. It's of course one of the favored devices in the Meadows novels of the early 2000s, and crops up now and then in various romantic versions of the story (often involving vampires), usually with similarly hilarious results. I'm also a fan of the clumsy writing in there that makes it seem like this is only rare between men and women; sure, de Mendes was probably just being a little unintentionally homophobic by forgetting or ignoring that people who are not men and women fall in love sometimes, but I’d prefer to pretend that this means that couples with other gender configurations are just running around fusing like they escaped from Steven Universe.
They are LITERALLY having sex again ON TOP OF HER FATHER'S SARCOPHAGUS. There is the CORPSE OF A LOVED ONE TWO FEET BELOW THEM. I don't think this is what Daddy Daaé had in mind when he said he would watch over you from beyond the grave, Christine.
After this first assignation and the creation of a sexytimes schedule to ensure that there's more graveyard bangerating in their future, Christine goes home, locks herself in her room, and refuses to bathe for several days running lest she remove any "traces of him". Eww. Honey.
Meanwhile, back in the Daaé tomb where he apparently just hangs out in his free time, Erik sits around being confused about Christine's surprising out-of-left-field declarations of love, which I feel him on. The back cover of this book says that she discovered he was her true love - but how? When? What changed her mind about him, or herself, or Raoul, or all three? This freaking mess doesn't even acknowledge her previous thoughts, actions or feelings, not even so much as to give a vague explanation of why they no longer apply - she loves him, she's always loved him, boom, done. She's basically a completely new character with functional amnesia of the previous novel's events, except for the memory that she was A Bad Bad Person, Shame On Her.
Erik does talk to himself in the third person some here, though, which is classic Phantom behavior. He won't do it very often in the book, but then again, neither did Leroux's Erik do it all the time.
He also spends some time fantasizing about "healing her by giving her children," which is a train wreck all on its own. Leaving aside the very important question of whether or not she even wants to have children (or wants to have them now, or wants to have them with him specifically), which he has definitely not asked her or in any way opened a conversation about... hasn't she been married to Raoul for the past two years? How has she not had children with him yet, considering that that would be a pretty normal expectation in this time period and situation?
Since we have absolutely no insight whatsoever into Christine's relationship with Raoul other than her telling us offhandedly that she doesn't like being with him, we can't even guess which weird reason might be behind this. Are we suggesting that he's impotent as in the Forsyth novel, or that she's barren? Do they just not have sex, as in the first Meadows novel, and if so, why not? Does she throw things at him whenever he comes near her or something? Has this ever been an issue before, or is this just one of the many many MANY times that authors refuse to let Christine and Raoul have children because doing so would in some symbolic way be "legitimizing" their relationship?
Also, not only does Erik not know if Christine wants children to begin with, but assuming that knocking a woman up constitutes "healing her" of psychological distress is one of the ickiest things a Phantom has said in a book ever, and my friends, I have read a LOT of ickiness. All women do not want children, and a woman getting pregnant certainly does not necessarily “heal” her of whatever problems she has, and I am horrified to even be explaining any of this.
A caretaker at the graveyard catches a glimpse of Erik here and says he has "a face like a skeleton", which is confusing in light of the teensy quarter-mask he keeps wearing. However, please note that Erik gains a German Shepherd as a pet here, because it is scientific fact that no one an animal loves can ever be a bad dude and all animals automatically love the Phantom. He's a good guy. Write it down.
Chapter 2: Avow the Unspeakable
Alas, we knew it was coming, but confirmation appears here that Philippe de Chagny is in fact dead and was found drowned on the shore of the underground lake just as he was in Leroux's book. What does not follow the path of Leroux's book is that the police decide that Raoul and Philippe must have been quarreling over Christine's affections in order to explain it, which begs the twin questions of how that makes any sense whatsoever (poor Sorelli does not get any say in this book, but I imagine she would have some choice words) and why Raoul has not been prosecuted for murder in that case. As should not surprise any of you who have ever read or seen film versions of Phantom sequels, however, the police force of Paris is entirely staffed by clowns, so no further thought is applied to the situation.
de Mendes takes one of the more common approaches that authors who don't like Raoul and want him to no longer be considered a good romantic option for Christine often do, and devotes some time to making sure that we know how much his life, environment, belongings and general existence are too overblown/exaggerated/gaudy and everyone should be embarrassed about his crassness. The narration literally says the line "money can't buy happiness" during its quest to inform us that Christine could never be happy here among all this disgusting richness. As usual, while of course being rich aristocracy is not the only way to be happy in the universe and there are plenty of sad aristocrats throughout history, I am baffled by the consistent authorial insistence in these books that being rich is automatically always worse than being poor. Rich people can be genuinely in love, too, you know. (Also, the original Raoul gave up his riches in order to disappear with Christine at the end of Leroux's book, but somehow authors always seem to force him to be rich in their sequels and then yell at him about it like it's his fault.)
There's also a less-than-subtle suggestion that Christine only showed up for the money anyway, which of course totally ignores everything about her relationship with Raoul in Leroux's book. In fact, Christine spends three straight pages complaining to herself about how much she doesn't like her life here and emphasizing that therefore it's totally morally okay to cheat on her spouse - and this entire journey goes without a single moment of Raoul's presence or even one line about her feelings for him. Seriously, you could be forgiven for thinking that she married the house itself, and there was never another human being involved at all.
Speaking of architecture and poor decisions in relationships, Erik decides that, rather than finding a far less creepy and inappropriate meeting place for their trysts, he'll just go ahead and start tunneling and modding Christine's father's tomb to add a love nest for them in the walls. Well, you can't say the man isn't consistent in his creepery.
Erik is described on page 19 as having "thick raven's black hair", which is hilarious both because it implies that the hair actually belongs to some now-denuded raven that he apparently took it from and because Erik is not exactly renowned for having fabulous locks. Oh, Butler, whenever I turn a corner, there you are. Another nod to Leroux's deformity appears here with the mention of a "half-nose", but that isn't commented on further, and in the same breath de Mendes reconfirms the deformity's confinement to only a quarter of Erik's face.
But then a minute later they're talking about him as a "walking skeleton" again. This book is giving me a headache. I don't think even de Mendes knows what's going on with this character.
By the way, this novel is often billed as an erotic and sexy romance-filled steam-fest, which... I mean, I guess it is trying to do that. Erik and Christine have a whole lot of sex (also occasionally Christine and Raoul), and de Mendes is clearly trying to make it titillating and fun, but not only is there nothing particularly hot or inventive to jump out at us, but the frequency of the sex scenes and their habit of taking up zillions of words' worth of pagespace that could have been better spent not reading this book makes them all run together after a while. Sadly, I didn't experience even an iota of ticklishness reading this, and believe me, that would have made it go faster.
Like, see when the phrase "the aching of her crotch was intensifying" is used. That's not making me think about sexy things. That's making me think of diseases, or that possibly Erik kicked Christine in the vulva really hard when I wasn't looking. Also, "crotch" is never the right choice. Never.
de Mendes also wants us to know that, scandalously, Christine isn't wearing any underwear! I was not scandalized, but I was amused, because the very idea betrays a massive lack of knowledge when it comes to womens' clothing in the nineteenth century. Most women were wearing more underwear than we wear clothes nowadays as a matter of course - are you trying to tell me that Christine left the house without corset OR chemise OR drawers OR petticoats OR corset cover OR crinoline OR bustle, and no one noticed? My friend, underwear in the 1870s was structurally required just to make the normal clothes look right.
Erik is lovingly described here as the most incredibly gifted lover ever to put tongue to relevant parts of someone's anatomy. As usual, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever because we're supposed to understand that everyone hates him and no woman will willingly have sex with him except for Christine, but shut up, he's just naturally gifted. Always. In every goddamned sequel or rewrite ever.
I do, however, like him being described as "the embodiment of a portamento" on page 21, connecting him with the music that is so important to his character while giving us an impression of smooth sexiness. I do not as much enjoy the fact that Christine is "in the throws" of a climax later on the same page, though. It makes me think he's hurling her around inside the mausoleum or something. And while I was enjoying the music metaphors when they started, by the time Christine is describing her FOURTH orgasm (all from penile penetration only because CLEARLY Erik has a magic penis and doesn't need to do anything other than pop it in and rev it up) as a "Da Capo al fine", it's become too ridiculous and I'm just waiting for them to hurry up and finish already. "You could have had me if you'd stopped that before it became terrible" is a recurring theme in my relationship with this book, sadly.
The first interesting thing to happen in this book is that it's actually Erik who tells Christine she should stay with Raoul rather than running off with him; not because he did so, because it's clearly a contrived plot device to try to manufacture romantic conflict and drag this awful story out as long as humanly possible, but because of his reasons. Aside from the possibility that he could be caught and tried for his crimes if anyone figures out that he isn't dead, he acknowledges his own mental instability and his fear that it might affect her and resurface regardless of his attempts to be a supportive partner for her.
That’s neat, and I would really have loved it if the book had done a good job of exploring the struggles of a person with a mental illness trying to manage its challenges while maintaining a positive and supportive romantic relationship. I can see where de Mendes tried to do that, but ultimately the novel only trots out Erik's psychological issues when it needs some convenient drama or has run out of ideas about what to do, and we never gets deeply into what he's doing to try to handle them or how they affect his life outside of his own brief bouts of navel-gazing about them.
Oh, by the way, all emphasis in this book is for some reason done via bold lettering, rather than the conventional italics used by professional publishers. Just in case you forgot you were reading a self-pub.
Erik has by this point installed an elevator in the Daaé tomb, necessary of course to reach the love nest which is apparently also partly in the ceiling. An elevator. In her father's tomb. Even more hilarious than that is the fact that when he unveils the elevator and informs Christine that he added a room with a proper bed for them to enjoy, she instead basically says, "Whatever, just bang me on the floor of the tomb down here, you stud." Which he then does.
(Hey, Christine having a death fetish could be a neat thing to explore. In some other book, that actually knows what the hell it's doing.)
We now discover that Erik lives in Madame Giry's house, because it's another unwritten commandment of derivative Phantom-based literature that the Girys must always be involved in the Phantom's life until the end of time, regardless of whether or not that makes any sense. I can't figure out if Erik actually works or just squats in Madame Giry's attic, and she spends the entire novel being a basically faceless yes-woman whose job is to support his covert relationship with Christine and totally back him up no matter what morally questionable or obviously reprehensible things he does.
This sort of behavior would make a little more sense out of Leroux's Giry, who thought the Phantom was going to ensure her daughter's future if she obeyed him, but de Mendes makes it extremely obvious that we're looking at Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry from the 2004 film, and considering that she eventually said "This guy is a murdering maniac, I'm going to out him before he kills or kidnaps again" at the end of that movie, I'm not sure what the logic is here in re-defaulting her to accomplice again.
And speaking of people who are here to be yes-men and for no other reason whatsoever, the Persian's on the scene! He has a new original name, Khalil Salim (literally "safe friend" in Arabic - I see you trying to be subtle over there, de Mendes), and just as Giry has bewilderingly forgotten all about realizing that Erik was a dangerous murderer and menace to society, so he has totally forgotten about all that tracking and arresting and attempting to stop Erik's reign of terror that he was doing when we last saw him in Leroux's novel. Instead, he is and always has been Erik's bestie (possibly there is some influence from Kay's 1990 novel here, which was the first to really hit the idea of the Persian-as-Erik's-sidekick), and they are happy and at ease, grin frequently when hanging out together, and are both totes cool with using one anothers' secret passages. They call each other "brother". Literally no one remembers any murders ever taking place. We are in the Twilight Zone.
As is common in books that seek to make Erik the hero and therefore want to minimize his previous villainous actions, de Mendes tweaks the events of Leroux's novel and claims that Philippe's death was an accident, rather than the implication in the original novel that Erik (or his mysterious siren, if that happens to be someone else) drowned him. I was actually kind of excited to see this device used on someone other than the unfortunate Buquet, which tells you how many times I have seen people try to pretend Erik never killed Buquet. Jumping Jehoshaphat, it is so many times.
As you can probably tell, none of the secondary characters in this book - including the not-yet-introduced but later important Meg and her husband - make any sense when compared with their previous incarnations in either Leroux's book or any version of Lloyd Webber's show. They would actually have worked better if they had been re-imagined as a sort of morally suspect League of Extraordinary Gentlemen instead of trying to use existing characters that don't fit into all these wrongly-shaped holes, but that would have required, you know, creativity.
We have now FINALLY seen Raoul, for the first time in the entire book. Don't get excited, though. It's only so he can be mentioned in a line wherein he leaves home with no comment or any kind of description of him or his actions. For a while I wondered if Raoul was actually going to be a sort of ghost presence in this book, mentioned but never appearing in the flesh. Now that I've read the rest of it, I so so so so so greatly wish that had been true.
Oh, goodie. It has been a little while since we heard the "I had sex with Erik first when I was a captive by the lake, therefore I'm really married to him even though I am so totally not" defense for cheating on Raoul, hasn't it? I'm definitely detecting more than a hint of Meadows' influence in this book now. This is one of my most hated devices in Phantom lit. No, you asshat, the fact that your kidnapper said you had to marry him or he would kill everyone and you agreed because you wanted people to live does not mean that you were then instantly wedded. You didn’t really consent and there was no actual wedding. If you're going to run out on Raoul, own up and do it, and stop pretending that your marriage to him isn't “really legitimate” to justify your affair instead of actually just taking action. I promise, everyone in this book would have been SO much happier.
She also says that Erik "tricked her" into leaving with Raoul. Clearly, de Mendes is privy to a totally different final lair scene than the one I've read and seen. We can only hope it will be shared later.
Everyone spends a lot of time here talking in dire tones about the terrible consequences should Raoul ever find out about Christine sleeping with Erik. This is funny, because he still hasn't actually had any lines or appeared in any scene in this book in any meaningful way. It is especially funny when Khalil refers to him as "royalty", which de Mendes will continue substituting for "nobility" throughout the book, thus affording me the constant amusement of wondering how Raoul got to be the king of France without anyone noticing.
Chapter 3: Nasty Rub
Don't ask me about these chapter titles. Some make sense, but then some are "Nasty Rub".
Apparently Raoul is now a merchant boat-builder who makes his money selling vessels to various military and private organizations. I assume this is de Mendes' attempt to handle Leroux's backstory of the man as a naval soldier in the French military, but I am bewildered about why he would want to leave the military to go build ships instead, not to mention what happened that made him a businessman. Interestingly, a lot of later versions of the Phantom story convert Raoul into a rich businessman who is constantly "away on business"; I'm sure part of that is just to have a convenient excuse for him to be out of play a lot to make way for Erik and Christine to have illicit sexytimes, but I think a lot of it also has to do with much later, most often American authors just not having a very good grasp of what being landed nobility actually means in this time period. In the modern day, we equate being rich with having a high-powered job, because Capitalism; but kinda the whole point of aristocracy is that they don't have to do Capitalism because they have inherited wealth and privileges. This is what the people keep having all those angry revolutions about, y'all. Raoul certainly could have a non-military job, or at least business interests, in the time period, but it would be pretty weird of him to actually be simultaneously nobility and merchant-class.
Poor Raoul, predictably, has no idea whatsoever that Christine isn't happy about being married to him now that he has arrived in the book, and she never mentions it to him. It’s very, very hard to give Christine any credit for being a strong heroine when she never even expresses what she wants or likes, let alone tries to actually get it.
The presence of the word "hollered" in the narration several times is giving me endless giggle fits.
We meet Raoul's secretary LaPointe here, who is introduced while telling Raoul that he suspects Christine might have an extramarital lover based on the fact that she goes to the cemetery alone an awful fucking lot for hours at a time. It is clear that we are not supposed to like LaPointe because of his attempt to stand in the way of true love, but at this point he hasn't done anything but be observant (get better at stealth, you noobs). Raoul, however, is having none of these suspicions; in fact, his exact words are "Christine is a respectful and loyal wife," and he's kind of peeved with LaPointe for trying to harsh on his wife's recent good mood.
So far, you might think that Raoul is just a kind of innocently unfortunate dude who we have no reason to dislike, based on the fact that he is basically behaving like a decent human being who has no idea what's going on. de Mendes would like to prevent you from liking him, however, and to that end the narration often uses adverbs to describe the way Raoul talks in an unflattering manner, the most popular being that everything he says is spoken "arrogantly". Unfortunately, Raoul's actual dialogue throughout this portion doesn't sound arrogant at all - he's polite, makes good points, defends his wife, and generally sounds like a reasonable dude, giving me a hefty case of dissociative confusion between what Raoul is actually doing and what the narration says he is doing. I can only assume that the author is not a fan of the master/servant dynamic between Raoul and LaPointe and is trying to point out that it's bad of Raoul to exercise that power over another person... but I only assume that because otherwise I have no idea what's trying to happen here.
Seriously, the characters all seem to have absolutely no connection between what they do and say and how they react to it. Literally, Raoul says, "I think Christine feeling good is awesome, so don't go invading her privacy," and LaPointe's response is to think "god he's a horrible bastard I wish I could hit him." These people all have completely randomly-firing emotions.
And... now it's time for the book to begin its spiralling, hellish descent into the bowels of There's No Saving This One. In this scene, Raoul wants to have sex with Christine; she doesn't want to have sex with him at all, but she doesn't tell him that, so sex continues while we are left cringing at all the gory details while trapped in Christine's point of view. She hates him touching her, feels humiliated, abused, and miserable, and he has no freaking clue any of this is happening, so we're left reading a scene of frankly horrifying marital rape in which the rapist actually doesn't know his attentions are unwelcome and the victim spends the entire time telling us in vast detail everything he's doing and how miserable it makes her. I don't even know if we can call it marital rape; Raoul should certainly be checking in with Christine to make sure she's having a good time, but she literally just lies to him, yet feels she has to do this because <reason not found>.
There's no context in their relationship for coercion or a pattern of Christine being forced to submit to Raoul - as far as we know (and as far as de Mendes will tell us), there's just such a stupendous lack of communication here that neither party has any insight whatsoever into the other. And yeah, sure, it's pretty much in keeping with the time period for a wife to say, "Well, the husband wants his husbandly rights, I guess I'll just lie back and think of France," but that doesn't prevent it from being utterly miserable. Worse, the level of detail and style of description of their sex acts is almost identical to the happy and consensual sex scenes with Erik, leaving me distressed and confused about whether the author is trying to titillate the audience in this scene, and if not why it's so very similar to the ones that are.
So, yeah, that's terrible, and it's just the beginning of the terrible things that will be occurring in de Mendes' simultaneous quest to demonize Raoul in every possible manner and punish Christine for her inexcusable decision to not put Erik's desires before her own feelings. Get yourselves a stiff drink before we carry on.
I will say that, despite how horrible as everything surrounding it is, the line on page 39 when Christine says "She felt as if she were being devoured by Satan's penis," is tragic comedy gold. DEVOURED. By a PENIS.
Raoul, who is clueless and just happy that his wife seems so much more vibrant recently, decides to buy her a harpsichord as a gift and pay for her to have lessons. I'm sure we can see where that's probably going, but it is interesting to see a Raoul who is supporting his wife's musical interests. With the exception of the versions of Raoul (almost all film ones) who are musicians themselves, most later sequel-Raouls are usually painted as music-haters in order to draw an unappealing comparison with Erik. It's nice to see that trope averted here.
Christine's solo adventures are not the stuff of gripping storytelling. In fact, they read like a college student trying to learn Hemingway style for an assignment - Christine did action. She saw thing. She went place. She felt emotion.
In case you were worried that the whole soul-connection thing might fall by the wayside, don't be - a few pages later, Erik "calls" Christine from Raoul's mansion with his mind. I almost miss the vampire Phantoms. At least their weird mental powers had some vague folkloric justification and rules about how they worked.
Erik, of course, rides a powerful black stallion, as is written in the law.
Most of the interesting parts of this book have to do with Philippe, and they include this scene, wherein Erik sits beside Philippe's grave and talks to the dead man. He demonstrates surprising respect and empathy, and one of his lines - "It seems, Philippe, that when we murder we change events forever," - is almost self-aware. (Although also pretty obnoxious. No shit, killing people has consequences?) Of course, soon thereafter the conversation turns into a justification party for Erik to disavow any wrongdoing on his part, but at least it started out nice.
On page 48, another example of this weird behavior/narrator disconnect:
"Christine was already at the horse corals, talking to the head stableman about learning to ride, and a spineless Victor LaPointe stood at the office window spying on her from the edge of the draperies."
Do you see what I mean? The narrator is telling us that LaPointe is "spineless", but why? What is he doing that suggests an inability to stand up for himself or make decisions? Is de Mendes trying to aim for calling him a coward for spying on his mistress, and just missing spectacularly? Is he actually sans-spine, and some kind of jelly person?
Also, I know de Mendes means "corrals", but I regret my lack of art skills that prevent me from illustrating a flowering coral reef full of tiny equines.
Chapter 4: Tormenting Revelation
Ewww. Christine writes Erik a letter and it is formatted entirely in the Lucida Handwriting font. I'm not against font differentiation inside books, actually, but I am against fonts that look like the generic program font used for every high school graduation in the 1990s.
The characters here reaffirm that Christine is absolved of the moral problems of philandering because, while she would leave Raoul to live honestly with Erik, Erik refuses to "take her from" her current happy home. There are myriad problems with this, starting with the fact that it doesn't actually absolve anyone of anything; Erik doesn't dictate Christine's actions, and she has full control of her own decisions at this point. She doesn't have to cheat on Raoul, and if she doesn't want to be with him she also doesn't have to stay in his house, and Erik saying, "No, I won't take you from there," is an author smokescreen to remove the blame from the main characters and drag out the plot as a love triangle for most of the book for no good reason. It's not their fault, they just have no choice! Except they all do, and just saying it over and over doesn't actually make it so. (Bonus: fuck you, Erik. Christine is a person telling you she wants to be with you, not a belonging of Raoul's that it would be morally wrong to "take".)
Oh, ha ha, me of the past, you sunshine-and-bunnies naive woman. My notes here are about the fact that Christine here decides she wants to go to a hypnotist; I wrote something about how it would be interesting if this had to do with Erik's once-common device of hypnotizing her and whether or not it's something she now wants or craves, and wondered in the margin whether it had anything to do with the 1944 Waggner/Karloff film's heavy hypnotism theme. Please ignore all of that. The actual reason for her visits is way more hilarious when revealed later.
Erik apparently supports himself by publishing music under the name "E. D'Angelus." Such fucking subtlety.
Ahahahaha, oh my GOD. The porcelain doll copy of Christine that Erik used to keep in his home in the Lloyd Webber musical and 2004 movie - do you remember that horribly creepy-ass thing? It's HERE. He is STILL LIVING WITH IT, now in MADAME GIRY'S ATTIC. Oh my GOD he cannot let a single iota of his creepiness go, can he?
Add another new name to the Giry files! In this book, her first name is Louisa, which is slightly confusing because it's not the French form of the name, which would be Louise, but at least it isn't something wacky. To follow it up, he also informs Christine that he's been working at her house, disguised as a mentally disabled groundskeeper, and she just didn't know about the fact that he was lurking just out of sight while she's been going about her normal life. Isn't he cute?
All right, boys, girls, and folks of other genders! As we all knew it would, the moment has arrived when Christine turns up pregnant, and naturally everyone is immediately and irrevocably sure that the spawn must be Erik's, not Raoul's. Look, they're just sure, okay? They just know. Christine again wants to leave Raoul and be with Erik now that they're going to have a child to raise, but Erik again puts her off, this time saying that he's afraid the child will be frightened by his deformity and that it'll be better for the kid to grow up as aristocracy (that second one, at least, is probably true as far as security and comfort go, anyway).
Christine, when you tell Erik that he has true beauty and then think of him privately in your internal monologue as a "gargoyle" in the same paragraph, I have difficulty taking you seriously. I'm not surprised you're not having much luck convincing him.
Chapter 5: Omens
Christine is hella weird in this book, you guys, and she has only just begun her trek to weirdness. Among other things, she uses her stairs as a mnemonic device to recall various scenes from her memories, meaning that it takes her literally hours to get up them because she stops and stands, unmoving or speaking, on each step for several minutes before moving on. She also has a collection of tiny skulls that she has named after all the dead members of the de Chagny line that went before Raoul, which she lines up obsessively in her room while reciting their dates of death and how they died.
Raoul's staff, who probably don't have the economic luxury of being like, "Well, the lady of the house is clearly completely bonkers, I'm quitting," invent quaint nicknames for these behaviors such as "the Time of Pearls" or "the Time of Skulls". I'm actually not sure what de Mendes' intent is here, but I don't dislike this device much, to be honest - it gives Christine a bit of an inwardly-focused, childlike imaginationscape that others don't understand, and is reminiscent of her characterization as a child who loved fairytales and make-believe in Leroux's book. It's also very reminiscent of Victorian-era ghost stories and mental health thrillers, which is a nice oeuvre to tap into here.
Speaking of children, Erik is seen by one here, an eight-year-old ballet student of Madame Giry's named Kate who catches a glimpse of him on the landing going up to his shut-in rooms. Erik decides to be the worst kind of creeper by asking first thing upon being told this whether the child was pretty. A big round of applause to Madame Giry, who informs him that Kate's prettiness is irrelevant, although sadly not with an accompanying slap and invitation to think about his life choices.
Meg's husband, the Baron Jean Castelot-Barbezac, is introduced for long enough for de Mendes to repeatedly establish how "unpretentious" he is, because of course only noblemen who oppose Erik are evil, not all of them. Like a lot of other later authors, this one uses the fact that Raoul is an aristocrat as a black mark against him and attempts to point to it as shorthand proof that he's morally bankrupt, but doesn't actually want to make all aristocrats evil because then there would be no opportunity for convenient money and political connections for the characters. The result, as usual, isn't very coherent.
And speaking of evil aristocrats, Raoul decides to become one out of left field. He and Christine previously had a spat over Christine's bed - it belonged to Raoul's mother and she died in it in childbirth, so Christine wanted it replaced because it creeped her out, but he resisted on the grounds that it was an important family heirloom and generations of his family had been born in it. Christine ends up giving birth to her son while visiting with Meg and Jean while Raoul's away on business (there's that convenient away on business thing!), and Raoul's response upon returning home and hearing that she's still over there recuperating is to become "savage" and start ominously sending servants to retrieve her because "Christine has forgotten where she belongs." Don't waste time trying to figure out his motivations, because none of them make sense - is he pissed she didn't give birth in the bed? Suddenly regressing to a past life as a feudal warlord? Concerned that she's going to run away with the Baron? No one knows.
Chapter 6: Married and Festering
The baby is named Michael after the Christian archangel, which is a classic name used for various incarnations of the Phantom (probably specifically because it's an angel's name, actually).
Christine and Erik need to get together and talk about their new baby and their relationship, mostly so they can continue deciding to be sad and not actually change anything they're doing, but their conversation is a trainwreck. Christine answers him in "a demure, monotone voice," which we're supposed to find romantic. She promises to never voluntarily leave Paris because he has a minor meltdown about her "leaving him", which tells me that she does not have a realistic idea of what things she might have to do in the future irrespective of his unreasonable demands. Erik accuses her of "[sacrificing] him... to the dark goddess Nyx," which is just confusing and nonsensical, and Christine promises Erik that he's not "a madman riling in a corner," because she doesn't understand how to words. Oh, and she confirms that because he has "purpose and intent" to everything he does, he can't possibly be mentally unstable, because clearly no mentally ill person anywhere has ever had any kind of purpose or intent to the things they do.
ALSO, he is gripping and hurting her arm for the entire conversation, which we just get to sort of uncomfortably endure until he realizes that he's hurting her, and when he does, he lets go but also REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE because, quote, she "wanted a man, not [the] dog who used to drool after her footsteps." UGH. YES. ONLY DOGS APOLOGIZE FOR CAUSING THE PEOPLE THEY LOVE PAIN. ERIK IS A MAN AND MEN ARE GENETICALLY ENGINEERED TO BE EVIL BAGS OF SHIT SO THEY DON'T HAVE TO APOLOGIZE WHEN THEY DO BAD THINGS, BECAUSE THAT'S JUST HOW THEY ARE.
I want to go try to analyze the Nyx thing because you all know I have a thing for Greek mythology in Phantom stories, but seriously, it doesn't have any particular bearing on the story. Nyx is one of the Protogenoi, the primordial original creator gods of Greek myth who were seldom formally worshiped even in their heyday, and she has no corresponding mythology that makes sense to apply to these two jerks.
Chapter 7: Summon a Goblin
Man, if they were going to actually summon a goblin, I'd be back on board. I assume it’s just a weird callback to the line in “Angel of Music” in the Lloyd Webber musical, though.
At this point, my notes have begun to tend toward despair. There are 400 more pages of this, and I have no earthly idea what these characters could possibly be doing for all that time. I've only spent a fifth of this book dealing with their weird bullshit, and I don't know if I can handle a continuation of the total dearth of interesting plot.
Oh, my god, it says here that Erik is writing "skits" and I almost swallowed my tongue laughing. And then he's "staring himself in a play." Well, if Erik did write plays for himself, they probably would involve a lot of staring at his reflection and shouting god why across the stage. This is a man primed perfectly to write terrible one-acts.
The narrative also clearly does not know what else these jackasses could be doing for the rest of this book, and therefore invents some unnecessary bullshit - in this case, Erik going to a bar and intentionally picking a fight with several people, because... I don't actually know, apparently angst or something. The scene is a hilarious mess, from Erik causing a brawl as easily as you might see Bugs Bunny do so in a Wild West cartoon, then him beckoning to the attackers to "bring it on" because this narration apparently needed some modernization, and then avoiding a shower of urine from an upstairs chamberpot because his "olfactory glands" were "on high alert", despite the fact that olfactory glands don't have anything to do with sense of smell and are just in charge of producing nasal mucus.
If you were wondering about the morality of Erik going out and intentionally getting a bunch of people injured as well as beating some up himself, wonder not: he is a giant dick. He tries to sell the reader some horseshit about how it's okay because drunks are "numb" from drinking so it's totally fine to physically assault them for basically no reason, which is both untrue and obviously not a good excuse for anything at all, and generally makes it clear that he views people at bars - which he classifies as "drunks" across the board in spite of having no idea who they all are or what their individual motives for being here might be - as subhuman and inconsequential, and therefore doesn't care about their potential suffering. I'm not sorry when his jerk ass gets knocked out later in the fight, although I was disappointed that somehow no police happened to find him.
Hilariously, only the gross half of Erik's face is swollen, de Mendes would like us to know. The pretty half is merely bruised. We wouldn't want to make Erik ugly or anything.
Christine gets in on the grossness by judging Erik for what she describes as his "waddle through the mire of the lower classes." Dude, glass houses, Christine - not only are you one of the "lower classes" yourself who only got where you are by marrying an aristocrat, but you spent most of your life in the opera house, which is the definition of lower class, and your father was a Scandinavian peasant. Also, don't you spend all your time hatin' on the aristocracy? Is there anybody your classist ass does like? (Poors just aren't sexy, that's the problem here. Leroux would weep into the wine I always envision him drinking to cope with these things people write in his name.)
Erik and Christine have the fight over how she wants to leave Raoul but he won't let her AGAIN here, and I am so freaking tired of it. Christine, for fuck's sake, tell the whiny ass that he doesn't get to decide for you! What's he going to do if you leave Raoul in spite of his opposition - NOT let you come have sex with him all the time and be his wife as he's spent his entire life dreaming of? There's even a perfectly good reason to say that Christine should perhaps remain with Raoul in Michael, the baby, but they don't even try. It's more important for Erik to be a manipulative cock who won't respect Christine's wishes, and who needs to spend all his time crying about how he wants nothing more than to be with her but then telling her she can't be with him and she has to go home to enjoy some more squirm-inducing unwelcome sex with her husband.
Erik is apparently the son of a "master mason" from Rouen - is that Kay's influence I spy?
Chapter 8: Vassals for Scheherazade
Remember Kate, the pretty eight-year-old? Her father is Detective Edwards, a British policeman on loan from Scotland Yard who she manages to badger into going to see Madame Giry to set up a meeting for her to see the mysterious man she saw on the stairs. He decides the best way to do this is... to break into the house while everyone's out? Does "police" mean something different in Britain? Erik, who is hiding from him, reacts by planning and readying several ways to kill him, because why not make murder the first resort?
After Edwards leaves, he goes and talks to fellow French law enforcement officers, who know that Madame Giry used to work at the opera house but have never heard that she has a mysterious brother. I don't know why they would know that, but like I said, this is not a police force to envy.
The guy then immediately launches into telling Edwards the story of the Opera Ghost, apparently without prompting or any possible way it has anything to do with anything, because Plot! The ensuing recap of the old investigation is even worse than the hints from earlier in the book - not only are they still sure that Raoul and Philippe were lying about the Opera Ghost and just fighting over Christine, they also say that Raoul was never considered a suspect but give no reason whatsoever why that would be, and admit that they thought some of the strangulations might have been suicides but probably not all of them, but they didn't bother to investigate that part. No wonder the gendarmerie has to borrow extra law enforcement from Britain. These guys probably don't know how to put on their own pants, let alone solve crimes.
Oh, but better reopen that case now, though - that woman has a brother! Cue the shocked electric organ music!
Edwards does manage to go talk to Madame Giry in person later, in a scene whose major purpose is to establish that Giry is hot and Edwards is totally into her. She turns him down, everyone is very polite, and then we get another of those weird thoughts-don't-match-actions moments on page 115 when Giry launches into a rant about Edwards in which she angrily says that his gall "frosts my cake!" I can't tell if she also thinks he's hot and this is some sexy code, or if de Mendes really thought "it frosts my cake" was a good phrase to communicate anger here.
And now, some exceptionally boring and unnecessary remodeling of Giry's house in order to add more hidden passages and junk. It doesn't even begin to approach the fun of those things in Leroux's novel; where that book got much of its joy in the surprise and mystery of where the hidden contraptions and doors were and how they were discovered and their secrets learned, this one is just giving us a laundry list of materials and writing up blueprints, totally killing any fun to be had from it dead. The changes are all also out of necessity (at least according to these three clowns), so you don't even have the fun of Erik demonstrating genius because of being a genius.
Oh, stop participating in all this, daroga. You're only here because of Kay and we all know it.
Chapter 9: Only a Dream and a Dragon
It's been a while since we were reminded that Raoul is Evil and should be destroyed, so his creep-o-meter reading is considerably amped up here when he forces Christine to let him breastfeed from her in a sexual context. I'm not going to say that folks who are into erotic lactation aren't entitled to their fetish - go for it, my friends, I will not judge - but once again, Christine is way not into it and Raoul therefore bullies her into it, so this is not a case of fun if unusual sex experimentation. The reader is once again forced to sit through Christine being sexually assaulted, because that's what de Mendes does whenever it's time to either A) demonize Raoul, B) punish Christine for choosing him in the first place, or usually C) both at once.
Erik's breath is apparently always sweet, prompting Christine to wonder about the solution to the "complex mystery" that is the Phantom. Is the solution diabetes?
And now, fuck it, everyone board the express train to Bananastown. Christine has a... well, it's apparently a dream, anyway, in which Erik dies, and upon finding his body she meets an androgynous angel that claims that "among celestial beings [Erik] is known simply as The Voice." It further explains that he was sent to earth to "learn to love his curse" and manage his "gift of ugliness" (it's not going to explain what those mean, so don't hold your breath) and tells her that he was also appointed a guardian, but that that guardian "lost its way" and "valued the material things of the world more than love."
So, wait, back this train up. So in this book, Erik is actually an angel? A for reals angel? Who is just pretending to be a human for some weird celestial reason that no one is ever going to explain, except that it has something to do with "loving his curse"? Erik is a REAL LIVE ANGEL, my friends. This is almost as good as that time that we also found out that gargoyles are angels, too.
Oh, and all of the misery in his life is Christine's fault, since she is painfully obviously the missing "guardian". OBVIOUSLY. She's not just failing at life, she's failing at a HEAVENLY MISSION.
Then, the "joining of their souls" from earlier in the book is revealed to yes indeed be A Real Thing, and the angel lets Christine offer up her life for Erik's instead, because she is him, or something. It says it's going to test her faith and then dumps her in an ocean, and then she wakes up from the dream soaking wet because god forbid we get any silly ideas that this is not a for real serious part of this book's plot. Christine responds by painting a mask on her own face with her makeup, terrifying all her servants, and officially boarding the good ship Bonkers.
So... THAT'S happening.
Chapter 10: In the Strangeness of Christine
Oh, yes, do tell about the strangeness of Christine. She isn't being strange enough yet. You know, as much as I've liked some depictions of Christine with mental illnesses or post-traumatic psychological problems, I wish that authors didn't go for that option so very often. It suggests that Christine cannot function on her own without Erik and is often used to cast her mental suffering as a "punishment" for her choices. How about a Christine who leaves that shit in the dust behind her, yo? There's room to explore all the options for this character here, but I wish I saw more use of the spectrum in between the popular extremes of "eternal blissful love" and "eternal miserable suffering."
Erik and Christine are "in the throws of sex" again. It's accurate this time, though; he literally threw her at a tree. Hot.
But this chapter title is not lying, because Christine here demands that Erik disfigure her face with a knife so she can be just like him. I wish I were either lying or exaggerating, but I'm not doing either. Even Erik is like WHAT while she pressures him and screams about how if she can't be with him at least she can look like him and tells him she will refuse to have sex with him until he does it.
This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say that the author is on a hellbent crusade to punish Christine as much as possible for her incalculable sin of marrying someone else. Eventually, the passage claims that Christine needs to be disfigured because seeing the scar every day will be a substitute for having a wedding ring. It is literally saying that because she didn't marry Erik when he asked her to, she should now be brutally injured as a substitute.
I have never encountered a book that literally hates Christine as much as this one does. Sure, a lot of authors get on her case for not properly worshiping at the feet of the almighty Erik, but none before have both decided she deserves literal torture as a result and then visited it on her while sanctimoniously telling the reader that this is both romantic and exactly what she needs and deserves. Almighty Zeus. This is really happening.
Erik chooses to "compromise" with her by giving her a six-inch slash on her arm instead. Again, because it's a stand-in for the wedding ring she could have had, had she not been such a jerk. Jesus, Mary and Joseph's rock band. His internal thoughts are "Gee, I guess she must have really strong feelings about this, I should probably just give her what she wants." Yeah, thanks for that strong moral stand, dude.
Christine in this scene is also handled spectacularly badly, even apart from her sudden insistence on being mutilated to expiate her sins. There is literally no mention of pain or discomfort from the ritual cut - you can actually blink and miss the moment it happens, because she is given no wordcount to react to or feel it. This is because, in spite of all the narrative to the contrary here, she isn't actually an important person to this part of the story, so we don't care about sympathizing with her suffering. She's only being hurt so we can sympathize with Erik's suffering, after all. Hearing about her pain would be distracting.
Also, she gets totally naked and he throws her up against a pine tree and they have extremely rough sex, which owwwwww. Yeah, nice try, de Mendes, but "deeply bruised" isn't going to cut it. As described in this scene, that sex is going to leave her with precious little skin left on her back (hey, look at that, she wasn't bleeding enough for this book yet). How on EARTH is Raoul not going to notice any of her LARGE AND OBVIOUS INJURIES?
But he doesn't. Somehow. Nobody does. She wears her clothes cleverly or something. Fucking A. In fact, apparently Raoul is not in the habit of actually touching his wife while having sex with her, because when he does so shortly after this scene, she is able to prevent him from noticing her many physical injuries by just turning the lights off..
de Mendes draws a parallel between Erik and Joseph, the step-father of Christ, here, saying that the former is "no slave to concupiscence". Since he seems to do the majority of his thinking in regards to Christine with his penis, I'm not sure exactly what the author is trying to say here.
We also learn here that apparently Erik also has hidden panels and passages inside Raoul's ancestral home. Somehow. Maybe they just spring magically into being whenever he enters a building in order to provide him with convenient getaways.
Chapter 11: Cavorting with Swords
Do y'all want to know something? I STILL don't know the actual PLOT of this book. I think it's probably going to end up having to do with Detective Edwards and his possible stumbling onto the Phantom's secret, but he's doing it for such asinine reasons and with such molasses-flavored slowness that I cannot possibly be even the slightest bit interested, invested or apprehensive. I'm just tired. SO tired. Of everything.
But de Mendes doesn't care about my fatigue, so instead, in order to pad the book out with some more pointless and meaningless scenes that exist only for Erik and Christine to spend time together affirming the fact that they're in endless love for another goddamn eternity, Christine now starts begging Erik to teach her how to fight with a sword. Yes, apparently she needs to know how to use a foil, and she needs to know TODAY, and everyone is meant to feel how precious and precocious it is of her to want to do such a manly thing and how sexy and forward-thinking Erik is for teaching it to her. Yes, he is definitely on the forefront of social change, this guy.
Erik is here said literally to have been "healed" by having sex with Christine. She literally ends his problems with her vagina, because that's what she's here for anyway.
And now, it's time for the Evil Gay, because it has been a few pages since this book did anything to make me want to throw it against a wall and go get St. Patrick's Day drunk. Actually, he's the Evil Bi (or possibly the Evil Pan, which sounds like a menacing Greek god attack). LaPointe turns up here and he has been transformed from "confusingly described servant of Raoul's who seems to be kind of a jerk but mostly just doing his job" into "comprehensively and without explanation the embodiment of evil upon this earth". He informs Christine that he suspects that she's been cheating on Raoul and demands that she allow him to rape her in exchange for his silence, while physically menacing her and verbally abusing her soundly in the stables. He also declares loudly and with much aggrievement that he was totally wearing Raoul down and would have gotten to have a relationship with him soon, but Christine interfered, so he's jealous and pissed off at her. And then he busts out a knife and holds it to her throat while licking her.
I need to do another list because of all the ways this is just fucking gross.
1) This book needs to come up with sources of conflict other than "Christine is physically and/or sexually assaulted/injured." It seriously does. I don't know how much longer I can watch the author torture her for the unforgivable sin of not marrying a dude who ruined her life just because he was sad.
2) Christine remains inexplicably completely silent, unmoving, and uninvolved while LaPointe molests her, even before he has produced a weapon, until Erik arrives to save her. This is horseshit; he has outright told her that he has no proof of his accusations and she can obviously fight back capably against him, since she does so AFTER Erik arrives. She just couldn't be allowed to get herself out of this situation, because that would both steal the spotlight from Erik and imply that she didn't deserve this treatment in the first place.
3) Not that we could in any way blame her for being traumatized and paralyzed with fear, considering everything that's ever happened to her in this book and Leroux's, but de Mendes is not about to spend a lot of time on Christine's trauma. Once LaPointe is disposed of by Erik, she recovers at light speed and it never affects her again.
4) Bisexuality is flagrantly used here as shorthand for immorality, perversion, and rape, and it's fucking disgusting. LaPointe's interest in Raoul is presented in order to shock the reader and tell them that he's unnatural and a danger to those around him, and is held up as far more shocking than his currently-in-progress attempted rape of Christine. The idea is used to imply that sexual insatiability - considered obvious and inherent to him - is equivalent to evil and to suggest that he is therefore a more frightening danger than a "normal" (read: heterosexual) rapist. Because, as we all know, bisexual people are all ravenous predators bent on sexual assault of literally every person in the world, and are innately evil creatures.
5) LaPointe's bisexuality and interest in Raoul is ALSO used in an attempt to make Raoul look worse, in this case by having LaPointe recount times that he has received "teasing" or "provocative" signals from Raoul, therefore implicating him in the promiscuous evil of the Man-Sex. LaPointe's diatribe makes it clear that Raoul was at least mildly interested in him prior to falling for Christine and attempts to draw a parallel between Raoul's sexual appetite (which Christine is often complaining about, since he's characterized as ravenous for her body) and LaPointe's rape of her. It’s also just a double-down on the idea that being bisexual is in some way wrong or disgusting, and attempts to use it as another way to imply that Raoul is evil.
6) Basically, it is COMPLETELY AND IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY FUCKING GROSS.
Oh, and once LaPointe has been killed by Erik, a further attempt is made to demonize him by pointing out that he frequented all-male brothels. Because it's not really the attempted rape here that's really his worst sin (probably because, again, Christine wouldn't have had to suffer that if she just hadn't married Raoul, so much fucking hate), it's the Evil Interest in Dude Sex.
I feel like it's my duty to try to compare this book to Chappel's Mask in the Corridor, which also did a massive botch job on issues of bisexuality, but as much as I hated that, it is light years away from my burning hatred here. My god. Excuse me, there's a liter of rum still in the house that escaped the actual reading process and I need it now.
Christine and Erik envision themselves as spiders in a web made of lies, which is an obvious callback to Kay's novel again (although this time with Christine involved instead of just Erik as the spider).
Now, we often talk about Greek mythology in regards to the Phantom story, particularly the classic tales of the Abudiction of Persephone or the Marriage of Hephaestus, but de Mendes will be having none of that. Instead, this book tries to trade more heavily on Egyptian myth, particularly revolving around the figure of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death. He will be appearing frequently over the course of the book, starting here, where Christine names her rapier after him because it is a dealer of death.
Egyptian imagery certainly isn't out of place here, actually; because Egyptology and recovery of relics from ancient Egypt had become popular in scholarly circles at the beginning of the nineteenth century, by the time of the Phantom story the trappings of ancient Egyptian culture were in fashion in Europe, and people often held Egyptian-themed parties in which they wore dubiously-accurate Egyptian clothing or decorated with what they imagined Egyptian heiroglyphs might look like, and even held "unwrapping parties", in which they would procure a mummy from ancient Egypt and have a public unwrapping of it during a party as a curiosity. So Anubis' general presence isn't a problem here.
However, the obvious lack of Egyptian mythological information is, because while you can certainly refer to Anubis as the "god of death", he has nothing whatsoever to do with scariness or bad stuff and is totally inappropriate as a figure associated with murder and/or the fear of the afterlife. Anubis was the god of embalming for the ancient Egyptians, in charge of ensuring they safely made their way to paradise, and while he is involved in the weighing of the heart which is a pretty stressful afterlife event, he has no dangerous connotations, nor does he ever lay a finger on any mortals, living or dead. He's a god that would probably prefer to be neatly labeling jars and calibrating scales rather than bothering anyone, and this book's histrionic attempts to use him as a god of death who should strike fear into the hearts of all who oppose the main characters just tells me that de Mendes didn't look a lot further than the word "death" in his title.
(I think it’s… possible that this could be an attempt at showing that the characters are, as many French people at the time would have been, ignorant about Egyptian myth and assuming that a god of death with a jackal’s head must be scary? But if so, it was a failed one, since there was no implication anywhere that they were wrong.)
The scenes in which Erik teaches Christine sword-fighting are meant to be light-hearted fun, but even if they were written better than they are, they'd be too tainted by the rest of this chapter to even approach enjoyment. Also, Christine refuses to use a practice sword to learn because of authenticity or something, so they're both bad decision-makers and I'm disappointed that nobody loses an eye.
On page 154, Erik "hauled her up onto his shoulder like a load of russet potatoes." Why russet, de Mendes? Does that varietal of potato have some different connotation in this context that required us to know these weren't yellow potatoes or purple potatoes?
Christine calls Madame Giry "Mama", which is not a surprise since the elder Giry is clearly in this book expressly to function as a loving mother figure to both main characters while overlooking all their faults and having no agency or purpose of her own. I'd try to connect her to Mama Valerius in Leroux's book, but I kind of don't want to connect this book to that one anymore, just in case it gets something on it.
Chapter 12: Eulogies for Imel Grey
Page 157 mentions a "delitescent blade". Whoa there, author. I respect a large vocabulary, but are we sure our word choice is the best here, or are we just stretching those thesaurus muscles?
At this point, we meet Alexander Constantine, a dude who has an awesome name who also happens to be LaPointe's buddy in non-straightness (I hesitate to call him gay because his sexuality really isn't explored, but he's into dudes, most notably LaPointe himself). He turns up to the police to report LaPointe missing after he doesn't show up for his normal scheduled rendezvous at the brothel, but no one takes him very seriously because de Mendes is too busy thoroughly describing the syphilitic sore on his face so that no one gets any ideas about not thinking he's a bad person who is being punished for his bad bad ways. Considering that penicillin had not yet been invented at the time of this story and that syphilis was widespread not just among sex workers but also the people, upper- and lower-class, who frequented brothels and even those who didn't, there's no reason to use this poor dude's disease as shorthand to demonize him, but fuck it, that's what's happening anyway.
Also, descriptions of him are just plain weird. On page 159, it says that he "possessed a smooth face still containing some of the younger appearances of a child." What is that sentence even doing? That is a nonsense sentence. (Also, stop equating gay/bi men with children. It’s gross.)
At any rate, the police finally sigh and head off to perform a lackadaisical investigation when Constantine won't go away until they do, but not before sort of collectively rolling their eyes and generally thinking things along the lines of "this prostitute thinks he's important when probably he just got dumped" and "sounds like no one would miss the missing guy anyway, right?"
In what might be their first and only smart move in the entire novel, Madame Giry and the Phantom decide to "kill off" her brother Imel Grey, which is the cover story that Erik has been using in order to live in her attic and pretend to be a recluse so no one bothers him. Of course, they immediately ruin it by having Erik preside over the funeral himself in disguise as a priest, because why not take unnecessary chances for literally no reason whatsoever that may ruin things for them later? (Spoiler: it won't. Nothing just ever happens to these people.)
...are you fucking KIDDING ME? Christine wants Erik to cut her, AGAIN, and he doesn't even fucking argue this time, just rips her other arm open to match the first one. She says the two scars now represent the two years she's spent being his lover while married to Raoul. Lord, someone please help this poor girl. Leave her alone. Sweet bananas.
According to Erik, he can in fact look completely normal and undetectable among everyone else through the use of makeup (not too far-fetched, considering that Leroux's Erik invented a mask that he said would make him able to fit in with humanity seamlessly), but he never does so because the temptation to do evil is just too great when nobody recognizes him. So... he remains miserable and apart from humanity because when he's allowed into humanity he just commits random crimes for fun. Well, I guess I can't be mad at him for deciding not to do that. WHAT A PEACH.
This chapter isn't done telling us what an evil piece of shit Christine was all those years ago when she left the Phantom, so now it'll have her tell us in her own words, when she makes a huge and maudlin speech about her mistake in which she refers to herself as "prideful", "confused", "stupid", and "foolish" for ever having rejected him in the first place. Shortly thereafter, she also blames the rest of the world by crying, "How cruel was the world that it would one day refuse him a wife?" because if we've learned anything from this book, it's that sad dudes are entitled to anything they want, up to and including other human beings. Fucking Christ, do these characters even hear themselves? Do you think every "normal-looking" person in the world gets a spouse for free like a Crackerjack prize, Erik? That's the only way I can even vaguely understand this pathetic idea that the world owes him a hot wife no matter how much of a murdering asshole he is, and that it's the entire planet's fault (but especially Christine's, of course) that that didn't just come together for him during his kidnapping escapades.
THIS GODDAMN BOOK.
Chapter 13: Cagey Thieves
Now Erik is also teaching Christine pickpocketing, "smirking" while he does so as all Phantoms that I have ceased to attempt to like always seem to be doing. de Mendes' determination to transfer all of Erik's skills over to Christine so she can also be a master of deception (except she never will be, and Erik will always have to ride to the rescue, so really I don't even know what the point is except to waste everyone's time) reminds me of the 2006 Liu novel, in which Christine was a match for Erik in guile and streetwise skill, but all that really does is make me wish I were reading that again instead of this.
On page 180, Erik both says words before he could "censure" them, and then complains about the "contortions you so cruelly put me threw." Oh, just go home already, everyone. It's too late. You might as well stop trying.
Something interesting does happen here in the admission that Madame Giry apparently taught Erik the ways of sex, including sleeping with him for quite some time, when she was nineteen and he was some inexact flavor of teenager. There haven't been very many versions of this story so far that paired the Phantom romantically with Madame Giry, and while I feel like that could be a neat story in someone else's hands, here it's just another extension of Madame Giry's existence as a prop to be used in Erik's story. She's never part of any conversation about this, there are no details about what it was like for her or what her motivations might have been except for Erik's guesses, and it really only happens because de Mendes needs Erik to be a sexmaster for purposes of endless sex scenes with Christine, so he can't be virginal. Madame Giry is literally just used for sex here in order to make a male character more virile. You can guess how much time I have for that bullshit.
In case I wasn't annoyed enough yet (in THIS CHAPTER ANYWAY), Erik's utter creepiness is confirmed when he himself recounts how he first saw Christine when she was seven years old, and was immediately "smitten" with her, and broke off all sexual contact with Madame Giry in order to save himself for her. THE SEVEN-YEAR-OLD. WHO HE IS PLANNING TO HAVE FUTURE SEX WITH. OH MY GOD WHY IS NO ONE EVEN SLIGHTLY UPSET ABOUT THIS?
In case you wondered, there are hints of the 2004 film's backstory here in its mention that Erik traveled with a Romani caravan and was rescued from its exhibitions by Madame Giry, but she only befriended him and he was the one who made the decision to move into the opera house (which frankly makes more sense, you know?).
Chapter 14: A Conversation in a Box
On page 188, Christine is now angsting about her past bad choices even more confusingly than usual:
"I asked myself how I could have thrown our relationship away so cursively."
So... cursively. With such handwriting. So flowing letters. Much tragic typography. Wow.
Okay, come back in here, everyone, because here's where you learn what Christine was doing at the hypnotist, and it was not being hypnotized; it was learning how to hypnotize. Specifically, how to hypnotize Erik, which she apparently does frequently and effortlessly with the phrase "Laudanum is a good drug for those who need it," although it took me some extra time going back and rereading passages to realize that was happening because it is not at all clear why she keeps saying that random thing or what exactly is happening afterward. She uses this hypnotism in order to force Erik to tell her things he otherwise wouldn't admit, because this book wasn't creepy and horrible enough about issues of peoples' consent and privacy and personal autonomy yet.
And the information she gets is just... wow. Now we get to hear all about Erik's teenage penis, about how masturbation just wasn't enough (cry me a river, all teenagers), and without this scene we would have missed out on the opportunity for him to say the immortal phrase "the need to be physically embedded into a woman's pelvis overwhelmed me." WOW. Yeah, that's a terrifying sexual predator/murderer/necrophiliac phrase, Erik. Holy SHIT. Who thought this was a good idea?
And speaking of necrophilia, he actually almost commits some here, I guess on the theory that being "embedded" in a dead person would be better than masturbation, and that the reader's stuck with him this far and there's probably nothing more he can do at this point to drive them away. Actually, in context of Leroux's Erik, this could have been an interesting idea to explore; it's very much the opposite of his desire for the "living bride" he wanted Christine to become, and could draw upon his problems when it comes to feeling much more connected to the dead than the living. It's still ghoulish, but in a way that kinda could have worked if handled well.
However, Giry sees him about to get all up in this poor corpse's business and responds by volunteering to regularly sleep with him. Because his penis is the most important thing in play here, and whatever she was actually doing or feeling in her life, none of which anyone is going to tell us about, matters in comparison. As if to drive the point home (ha), Erik also refers to his penis in this passage as his "membre royale".
So yeah, he and Madame Giry were lovers until he was in his late twenties, at which point he started "saving himself" for a seven-year-old, which neither Madame Giry then nor Christine now see anything wrong with. AUGH.
Chapter 15: Looting the Attic
Sigh. At this point, still not even a full 200 pages into this epic ode to misery, I have to admit defeat. The plot really is just "Christine has to find a way to convince Erik to be with her." The author really did think that not only was that enough to keep us rolling for five hundred pages, but that is was really important that five hundred pages of "HA HA NOW IT'S CHRISTINE'S TURN TO BEG THAT'LL TEACH HER" exist to encourage all of us to really examine how terribly, terribly wrong of her it was to not be in love with her kidnapper when he wanted her to be.
No, seriously. Upon remembering when she ran away with Raoul and married him, she thinks, "I am the monster, Erik, not you." Like, how fucking dare she. That was way worse than murder.
In this chapter, we discover that Raoul keeps a locked safe in his attic. This did not set off any flags for me, considering that he's both a nobleman and a businessman in this book and probably has a lot of paperwork and valuables he would want to keep in a safe, but everyone in the novel is utterly convinced that it must house some deep, dark secret that they should uncover.
Sweet fuck, de Mendes, we get it. Does Christine need to give another speech on page 201 in which she thinks "You are a cruel, witch of a woman, Christine de Chagny, to have wounded this glorious angel like you did. Your rightful desserts are to have him always just outside your grasp"? Do you feel like maybe you have somehow not yet expressed the fact that you hate her?
Apparently so, because they do it AGAIN in the next few pages, during YET ANOTHER SEX SCENE. You have literally CUT THIS WOMAN OPEN to punish her in your book, and somehow it's still very important to continue to vilify her past actions and blame her for everything under the sun. How long is this going to keep up? Holy shit.
Christine wears something described as a "kimono jacket" that has a "mandarin collar". Those... are not compatible clothing styles, nor are they from the same culture. What.
Christine eventually succeeds in breaking into the safe while Raoul's not around, and the great secret is revealed: documents therein say that Raoul is not in fact a de Chagny and has no ancestral claim to his holdings. Rather, he is descended from a Jewish man named Jacob Klein, who moved to France from Palestine several generations ago and Dread Pirate Roberts'd the real de Chagny after the nobleman, dying of a disease, asked his friend to take over and pretend to be him.
This is not what I would call plausible, but I can't complain that I saw it coming. And you know, this book tries and in places succeeds at doing interesting things with the idea of Jewish heritage, the treatment of Jewish people in French society at the time, and the effect being Jewish has on various characters, so it may actually be my favorite thing going on in the entire shebang. It's a fresh take on some characters that hasn't been done before and that brings in additional concerns of societal oppression, and I'll take that all day long.
Christine will also take it, it being the evidence, which she gives to Erik so they can figure out how to use it to blackmail Raoul in the future, even though they STILL can't get their shit together enough to actually run away together so really, blackmail him for what?
Chapter 16: Locked Down
On page 213:
"Christine's legs became oddly heavy, their weight unfamiliar. She stopped. Who is this guardian? Could it be me? Madame Giry? No, she never lost her way with regard to Erik, whereas I threw the Angel of Music out like garbage and chose the life of a pompous titled female.
Berating herself brought no joy. Only the unspoken satisfaction of acknowledging that she was guilty within the court of her own heart - guilty of heresy against love."
I am so. Motherfucking. Tired. of this book.
A bit later, a "profound volley of vomit blasted out her mouth." Good heavens, a volley? Is she assaulting someone with it?! For those wondering, this is happening because Christine is now pregnant again, and she is ill of Convenient Plot Disease that will make her thoroughly miserable for the entire pregnancy in order for Erik to angst about it and the rest of us to enjoy watching Christine suffer even more, because clearly there has not been enough yet.
Erik speaks using Christine's voice here, which, while not used much in the book, does call back to his Leroux-ian skills of ventriloquism and mimicry.
Forget that, though, because now he's also teaching Meg, Baroness Castellot-Barbezac, how to fence, too. I... you know what, fine. Whatever. I hope they all run away to be pirates and then I won't have to read about them anymore.
Chapter 17: Spell of a Witch
Michael, the first of Erik's and Christine's children (the second is Ariel, also unquestioningly believed by everyone to be Erik's even though Raoul continues to sleep with his wife regularly, because everyone here is apparently Privy to the Plot), has developed yellow eyes at the age of one year old, as well as being excessively clever for a baby. This causes general panic among everyone who wants to prevent Raoul from realizing that the kid isn't his, but no one bothers to either explain how this happens (yellow eyes are generally not found in human beings, y'all realize) or come up with a solution. Eventually, I think they must forget about it, because Raoul doesn't say anything and everyone stops screaming about it after a while.
Let's head back to our ongoing performance of The Relationships In This Book Are Unbelievably Toxic, starring Erik and Christine, in which the next act is opening with Erik learning that Christine has been hypnotizing him against his will. He is extremely pissed off, which isn't surprising (to us; Christine is somehow surprised), although it is ironic that his ensuing towering rage is exactly the sort of reaction Christine wasn't allowed to have to him doing the exact same thing to her in the previous novel. Christine's protests of "But I did it for us!" and her ranting about how he should realize that her intent was good and that's what matters so he can't be mad about her infringing on his free will does not mollify either him or the reader.
His response is to call her a witch, chloroform her into unconsciousness, and then drag her down to his old lair under the opera house and cuff and chain her to a chair. But that the manacles are felt-lined, so this isn't cruel or anything.
Christine proceeds to be "insulted" when Erik accuses her of invading his privacy (news flash: that is exactly what you did, lady), and the ensuing fight about who has done worse things to the other is tiresome. I don't care. You're both terrible. Is this going to end in a Sweeney Todd-esque double murder/suicide? I would be down for that ending.
The thing here is that I would actually have totally accepted Christine hypnotizing Erik out of fear; she knows how dangerous he can be and has been subject to that danger before, and her finding a way independently to come up with a weapon with which to protect herself would have been understandable and awesome. Hypnotism as a sort of panic button in case he went into a rage and threatened her (or their children) would make all kinds of sense, and if she's really going to be around this maniac all the time, a pretty sensible precaution. It would also have been easy to get around the consent issues by just involving Erik, who if asked might even have agreed to this since he’s so worried about hurting her.
But, unfortunately, the author takes care to make sure we know that Christine doesn't fear him in the slightest and wasn't at all worried about using hypnotism as a defense mechanism, and that she did this because he was using his free will to do things she didn't want him to do (not telling her things and refusing to let her live with him). There was such potential here for something compelling and understandable from the characters... but instead, Christine's just learning how to be as colossal an asshole as her lover.
Oh, and bonus points: apparently Erik just likes to screw around with LaPointe's corpse to make sure we don't forget about that particular character, because Christine finds his severed, decomposing hand in the ashes of the welcome-back fire Erik made for her. Classic romance.
It turns out at the end of the chapter that Erik didn't in fact physically take Christine anywhere, but rather retaliation-hypnotized her to make her hallucinate that entire scene. Which is somehow supposed to be better, because see, he didn't physically chain her to anything, he just inflicted the same mental trauma on her without going through all that work, so it's way less wrong!
The two of them make up and promise never to do anything like this to each other again. Oh, yeah, I totally believe in their self-control and decision-making capabilities.
Chapter 18: The Good Doctor
Okay, so, do you remember way back in the day when Raoul got Christine harpsichord lessons? It's okay if you don't, because it wasn't important until now and we've been through several levels of trench warfare since then. At any rate, her harpsichord teacher is a Jewish man named DeVille, and he has a venerable father who happens to be a medical doctor, and Christine manages to bully Erik into going to see DeVille the elder for an examination because, I don't know, plot reasons. DeVille spends more time waxing rhapsodic about how amazing Erik is while Erik is "smug" about it because I hate his face than doing actual medicine, but we do get some tidbits of information out of the scene, including confirmation that Erik is of Germanic descent, that his father was a master mason (again, probably borrowed from Kay's novel), that he ran away and performed in a Romani circus for a while, and then finally went to Persia, entertained the Sultana there, performed assassinations, and then escaped when the Shah tried to have him put down. According to him, the daroga murdered all the prison guards in the place to help him escape because they were already best friends forever, and that said daroga then escaped execution because he was actually the Shah's cousin and a prince. I think there may be a pretty poor grasp of nineteenth-century Persian politics going on here, but we're not ever going to come back to it in this book, so we might as well let it slide.
DeVille diagnoses Erik's deformity as "congenital soft tissue deformity and concurrent nerve anomaly", which really means "I dunno, it's 1876" in doctor-talk. The two of them bond over their shared ostracization - DeVille for being Jewish, Erik for his facial disfigurement - in a pretty good scene, however, that again touches on the anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe and the probable similar struggles DeVille and his family may have endured. We don't get any details on them, really, but at least someone's problems other than Erik's are being acknowledged.
Chapter 19: Hunting Fees
de Mendes has gone to great pains to make Raoul a totally unlikeable bag of shit in this book even when he's not doing anything, but I get the sense from the inconsistent seesawing of his character that efforts are being made to be fair, or at least not totally black-and-white, about his characterization. They don't succeed - god no - but I think they're there, at least a little bit. In this chapter, Raoul's interest in hunting as a hobby is discussed (and of course later used to excoriate him, because remember, animals love you = good, animals not love you = evil), and he has a sympathetic moment when he talks about missing Philippe, who taught him to hunt and to whom the most impressive trophies in the lodge belonged.
Raoul does some bonding here with the unnamed teenage nephew of one of his hunting buddies, which really feels weird since he's almost never allowed to interact with his own family in this book. I get that his sons aren't old enough to have meaningful conversations about the meaning of life with, but it still feels like a wasted opportunity to have him spend what little character development he gets on random strangers who will be gone by the end of the chapter.
Erik and Christine are supposed to be geniuses who have pulled this charade off for years, but yet they still choose to meet in the woods for sexytimes when they KNOW Raoul is hunting the grounds with his guests that day. They KNOW this, and while Christine did check with him to see what areas he was planning to hunt so they could not be in them, are they seriously THIS SHORT-SIGHTED that they can't plan for, you know, him following an animal into the trees or something?
At any rate, while he doesn't quite get a handle on what's going on, Raoul finally smells something rotten on the de Chagny estate and starts stalking Erik through the woods. Being an avid hunter, his stealthy pursuit of the intruder is believable, and his hunting rifle, while not a pistol, still hearkens back to his use of a gun to shoot the Phantom in Leroux's novel and the idea that while Erik may be the master of trickery and strange occult powers, Raoul is the wielder of the tools of humanity.
Raoul is being painted as the bad guy as clearly as possible here - obviously, because he's standing in the way of way too much True Love - but considering his past, it's hard not to feel that he's justified in freaking out at the idea of Erik being alive and on his property. In fact, he's being a little bit too nice; when he finally catches up to what he thinks is the Phantom, he puts down his gun and challenges him to a duel rather than just shooting him from a nice safe distance. And when it turns out that the figure he thought was Erik is actually just Christine herself, who tells him that she comes out to the woods to impersonate Erik and keep his music alive, he is understandably confused but still pledges to respect her privacy and not interfere with her desire to do so.
In fact, he just gives her the entire woods area as a gift so that she'll have it as her own private domain, and makes, through conversation and action, apparently every effort to accommodate her in spite of how weird he thinks all this is. As usual, the narration confuses the reader with descriptions that don't match what Roaul is doing, including asserting that he's acting this way out of "arrogance" and that Christine's punking of him is hilarious and awesome, even though as far as the actual action of the scene goes, Raoul appears to be being polite and respectful of her wishes while she sits around thinking about what a tool he is.
It is neat, however, that Christine was apparently in the pond, under the water, and singing through a reed when Raoul turned up. I've always loved the theory that Leroux's mysterious siren could have been Christine herself, or perhaps Erik singing with Christine's voice, and this certainly matches up with that!
Oh, and also Christine has a statue of Anubis out here in the woods, just, you know, for funsies. Raoul is confused about that, too, but let's be real, it's not the weirdest thing Christine's ever done. Once he leaves, Erik pops out of the statue, in which he was hiding, which makes me kind of want to try to draw a parallel between the Egyptian goddess Isis temporarily resurrecting her husband Osiris and Christine calling Erik from within symbolic death, but mostly I'm too tired about all these shenanigans to care anymore.
Oh, and Erik's penis is non-ironically referred to as a "god" on page 267. I swear unto you. That is a thing that really happened.
Later, back with the half-assed investigation into LaPointe's death, no one has really figured anything out, but Alexander Constantine has given his statement, in which he relates meeting a woman who turned up at the brothel where he used to meet LaPointe and offered to financially support the man's daughter, who was left without family after LaPointe's death. During the process, the woman (probably Erik in disguise) is described thusly: "Despite her very feminine, almost mythical aura, Constantine was convinced that he was in the company of a male." Is this more tragically funny because of the fact that the Gay is apparently so strong with Constantine that he can identify a man no matter what possible measures are taken to disguise him, or because the hilarious wording misfire implies that women literally do not exist? You decide.
At any rate, LaPointe's now-orphaned daughter is named Grace, but de Mendes should probably have just gone ahead and called her Cosette, because she's a dead ringer for the dispossessed child from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, starting with LaPointe paying innkeepers to take care of her for him but who keep her in squalor and abuse and ending with the benevolent rich man, now Erik, sweeping her away to make sure she's taken care of in the future.
Are you SERIOUS, Erik is STILL keeping the mannequin version of Christine? He's been dating the real thing for the past TWO YEARS. They have KIDS. Learn to LET GO, you creepazoid.
Chapter 20: Excessive Debts
During his relation of the events of the interrupted hunt, Raoul says that "Even the nephew of Joseph de Benares lost his preverbal virginity by bringing down a twelve-pointed male." Um... that is a really just terribly unfortunate place for someone to substitute "preverbal" for "proverbial", unless these hunts are WAY different than we have been led to believe.
In this chapter, Christine discovers that Raoul's business is in debt, which is another way he is the worst person on the planet and something she hopes to be able to use to convince Erik to let her leave him this time (spoiler: it doesn't work, because this book is the worst). Erik instead tells her that he's spending his time "composing a piece about Agamemnon removing Briseis from Achilles" in order to parallel how Christine was unfairly removed from him by Raoul, and the two of them later refer to one another by those names when they start getting their hanky-panky on a page or two afterward. I suspect that we're supposed to consider this romantic in the style of the 2004 film Troy, not in the style of the Briseis'-whole-family-is-killed-by-the-guy-who-then-takes-her-as-a-war-prize original Iliad. Just take a second to imagine Erik as Brad Pitt, though. I think we're supposed to.
While Raoul grapples with his financial problems on page 283, Christine thinks, "He must be leveraged to the hilt, she thought. Erik makes money and frugally doesn't spend it. Raoul can't seem to hang on to it." Well, Christine, that's because the author likes Erik, so his finances are always magically in order and never discussed, and doesn't like Raoul, so he's automatically bad with his money in order to make you yet again find another way that you can compare him unflatteringly against the Phantom. This is not a mystery to anyone but you.
Christine offers to help Raoul save his business and calls upon Meg and Jean to offer their financial help (apparently being secretly impoverished only affects Counts, not Barons), and the scene in which they arrive to help handle money affairs is embarrassing for everyone, readers included. The author makes fun of Raoul's masculine pride, which is his motivation for wanting to save his estate on his own, in one breath, but a paragraph later makes fun of him for letting these other people help him and compares their bailout to him being a child being rescued from trouble by his older brother. He can't win, and as usual, even though he manages to mind his manners for the majority of the scene, it's our job to hate him like every other character in the book already does.
Getting back on board the religion train now, Erik sings the Kol Nidre, a sacred Jewish recitation sung during Yom Kippur, for DeVille, which causes him to have an emotional breakdown and emerge "healed", although of what neither de Mendes nor any of the characters seem to know. During this scene, an angel - for reals, this is like last time when it was also real - appears in the corner of the room in order to kneel in awe before Erik, and the room is dubbed sacred ground because he has sung in it.
I really feel like de Mendes is trying to write multiple books at once here and just not able to do so, because the extra plot revolving around Erik's secret celestial origins always comes out of left field, confuses everyone, and then disappears again without actually really affecting anything else that's going on. I will say that it's interesting that Judaism is this book's conduit to religion, however - Leroux's novel was much more heavy on Christianity as the dominant source of religious imagery and theme, so this is again something new and potentially neat for this story.
It is confusing, however, for the reader that Erik is the one who seems to suddenly be Jewish, because the big reveal was about Raoul secretly being ethnically Jewish, but Erik is the one singing and hanging out with other Jewish folks. I don’t even know.
Chapter 21: Emancipating Grace
Jesus fucking Christ, the dissonance from Raoul's actions vs. description in the scene where he actually meets with Meg and Jean is bananas. He asks for a loan from them; everyone castigates him for not asking sooner. He says he'll work very hard to pay them back soon, and they call him too proud for implying he'll be able to pay them back. He thanks them and apologizes for his terseness, saying that it isn't easy for him to ask for help, and they "sense that his sincerity was transient." Just give up, Raoul. If you were being the most reasonable human being in the entire universe, the other characters and the narration would say that you were just doing it as a smokescreen so you could get back to being twice as evil once they left. If you were to get to experience Raoul's point of view of these scenes, it would be a zany world in which you're polite and do everything you're supposed to do and no one ever complains or brings up any problems to you, yet everyone hates you and you have no idea why.
And then, once they've just been shitful to his attempts to be polite for the beginning of the scene, they start taunting him and telling him that he's only being helped because he's just a "trapping" attached to Christine, and then tell him that he can never match the "generosity and unselfishness" of the mysterious benefactor that they won't name (yeah, Erik's behavior in this book just screams unselfishness, doesn't it?), and then not only refuse to tell him who's actively giving him this money, but directly and intentionally imply that Christine is cheating on him. Then everyone high fives for picking on him or something. This is like the weirdest nineteenth-century version of Mean Girls.
Then shit gets weird again, when Christine is visited by an angel that identifies itself as Menachem (a Hebrew name meaning "the comforter", although not as far as I know the name of any angels in either Judaism or Christianity). It tells her that all the angels want to collectively give her a gift for helping out The Voice, although to be frank I couldn't really tell what the gift was supposed to be, and establishes both that Erik apparently chose the trial of being born on earth this way because he needed to master self-loathing in order to write music about love or something and that all the angels refer to God as "the Source" which makes them sound like they're from the Matrix, and then peaces out again.
For once, the narrative actually spends a hot minute describing Madame Giry now that we're almost 300 pages in, and we learn that she has a long blonde braid. Hey, there, Miranda Richardson is on set!
Chapter 22: Foolish Betrayal
Erik heads off at the beginning of this chapter to go pose as a patron of the opera house while in disguise. Ah, how we have ironically come full circle.
WAIT. While he's gone, a guy shows up at Giry's house, where we discover that he is the real Imel Grey, the brother they supposedly killed off a few months ago. WHAT. She HAS a real brother, with the same name and everything even? She didn't LIE? No one foresaw this POSSIBLY BECOMING A PROBLEM, especially after all the bullshit they keep serving us about how Erik's "connections" can always get him bogus paperwork that effortlessly fools the cops?
On page 304, we have a clear illustration of the utter polar shift between the characterizations of Raoul and Erik, who have, as they do in so many later sequels to the Phantom story, completely swapped personalities in order to make this story work:
"Christine marveled that the touch of two men who both loved her could be so decidedly different. Raoul held her like he owned her. She was a possession he could physically handle whenever he wanted, an adornment to proudly display in public, but she believed that in his heart he worshiped her. Erik's touch was also firm but he enticed and cajoled, coaxing patiently until she responded to him. Erik's forbearance fueled her desires, provocatively driving her instincts until she churned with hunger, craving ecstasy with their bodies joined together. Erik was the artist and Raoul the well outfitted hunter."
Somehow, Raoul has become the man who ignores Christine's wishes and feelings and demands she satisfy his emotional needs while Erik has become the lover who adores her and wants her to come with him of her own free will, and no one in this book seems to notice in any way that this is exactly the opposite of what they were doing in Leroux's novel. (Well, in a general sense. Leroux was not big on telling us about his characters' temperament in bed.) Also, it doesn't even make sense for this novel - seriously, I have read the whole thing so far, and I know which one of these dudes was described as in such animal hunger to have sex with Christine that he ended up ripping all the skin off his paramour's back with tree-sex.
Raoul is now 100% aware that Christine is cheating on him, thanks to Meg's antics and intentional baiting of him, but he thinks he's delusional for suspecting Erik, which is reasonable since Erik is supposed to have been dead for years. Instead, putting together the pieces of her strange behavior, he thinks she must have found another lover and made him into a "substitute" for Erik, convincing him to take on some of the Phantom's attributes or using him to reenact things that happened long ago.
This is the last time Raoul will ever be remotely reasonable in this book. As he breaks out the bourbon in this scene, let us all break out the bourbon, and pour some out on the curb for the character we have just lost. Rest in peace, last dregs of the original Raoul's characterization.
So, yeah, now he just goes into full-on abusive spouse mode. He slaps Christine, gets drunk, starts strangling her, and then rapes her, because this FUCKING BOOK JESUS CHRIST WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS FUCKING BOOK SERIOUSLY. Then he sits around naked congratulating himself on the rape, admiring the damage he's done to her and planning to rape her again as soon as he can get it up. Like LaPointe, Raoul has become suddenly, bewilderingly, irredeemably evil because the author decided that it was time to punish Christine for her choices, and the rest of us have to sit here and watch it while it is frankly horrible in all possible dimensions.
The only interesting thing about this scene is that we discover that Raoul is infertile, which does finally explain why they were married for two years without her ever getting pregnant before starting to see Erik on the side. Raoul knew he was infertile (it's attributed to an accident in his youth, reminiscent of the Forsyth novel), and he felt bad for marrying her without letting her know that he probably couldn't give her children, so he's known ever since she got pregnant that she had to be cheating on him. He goes on to tell us that he's been intentionally leaving on trips and giving her lots of space on purpose, since he knew she would have to be meeting her lover, and waiting to see if she took any of the opportunities he was giving her to run away with the guy and be happy. All of which is actually really tragic and would make me feel very sympathetic toward the dude who seems to be putting his wife's happiness and future ahead of his own even when it breaks his heart except that HE'S TELLING US ALL THIS IN THE SAME SCENE THAT HE JUST BEAT AND RAPED HER FOR BEING UNFAITHFUL, because this author has NO CONCEPT OF CONSISTENCY.
Christine finally takes the kids and escapes by carriage, god bless, after threatening to expose Raoul's secret Jewish ancestry and thus jeopardize his holdings. She can do this because he... well, he went to sleep. Convenient plot sleep. Shut up, let's just all be glad she got out.
It's worth noting, in among all the general horribleness, that Raoul being impotent or infertile is a popular move on the part of authors who want to make sure he could not possibly compete with Erik in manliness, most obviously utilized in the Forsyth novel where he was entirely impotent and the Meadows novel in which he refused to sleep with Christine at all, but also frequently present more subtly in various versions of the story in which he just sort of mysteriously never manages to produce any children and/or Christine finds him utterly sexually unfulfilling. It’s yet another gross thing that we should all stop doing, since it suggests that men who aren’t fertile - or don’t want to have children, even - are somehow less “manly”, not to mention not helping trans or nonbinary men out any.
On page 316, perhaps in an attempt to lighten the mood, Erik exclaims, "Holy fireballs from Zeus' butt!" I did laugh, but it was the bitter, unhappy kind of laugh.
Chapter 23: Ode to the Missing
Apparently, in this version of the story, Christine spent her early childhood in Brittany rather than in Sweden, making her natively French rather than Swedish. I'm not sure what the purpose of the change was, but it doesn't matter to the story in the slightest anyway (because, after all, who cares about Christine or her life).
Christine and Meg have fled together without telling anyone where they went lest Raoul pursue them, leaving everyone else to freak out and try to figure out where they might be. Since we recall Christine's boneheaded promise to never leave Paris in her lifetime, I assume that there will be a surprising twist wherein she was right under everyones' noses all along.
Oh, look, there it is - she's in her father's tomb again. That poor man can never get any rest.
Christine continues to tell everyone and the reader how much everything is her fault here, including claiming that she "opened Pandora's box" by admitting to having cheated on Raoul to his face, thus linking her to the woman who in Greek mythology created all sins and afflictions with her selfish behavior in a not-so-subtle allegory. Even the characters are starting to get tired of this, though - Erik's like, "wait, didn't you just say he already knew, though?"
Thankfully, someone (the daroga) listens to Christine's protestations that she would like to not solve this situation with more murder, although Erik as usual ignores her because what she feels or wants is unimportant when his man-feelings get involved. Raoul, along with various men in his employ, arrives at the graveyard still hunting for them, and while Meg, Christine, and their kids hide in the secret tomb love nest, the men all put on masks because... reasons? It'll be "fun"? Do we even care anymore?
Chapter 24: Retaliation
Meg, who now has Raoul at gunpoint, is comforting him and Christine by telling them that she "knows Raoul isn't a bad man, just a truly spoiled one." Lady, he just beat, raped, and scarred his wife, who is also your best friend. Do you think you could see your way to making this not Christine's fault for long enough to take care of her, you absolute ass?
Oh, my mistake. A few paragraphs later it's Raoul's fault, but not because he's an abusive rapist. It's because he married her when he "knew she wanted Erik." That was the real sin - like everything else, even Raoul's monumental level of inexcusable abuse is not as much of a crime as Not Giving Erik What He Wanted. Heaven forbid.
Once Raoul escapes and starts pursuing Erik around the graveyard, it starts to feel like de Mendes got tired, because period-incorrect slang starts cropping up everywhere (one of Raoul's servants is described by the narrative voice as "freaked" and Erik tells a guy with a broken nose to press "real hard" on it) and the typos come thicker and faster, including one that ruins Erik's attempt to frighten a servant with a The Shining-esque dead child who says, "Alfred, Alfred, stay here and play me," like it's a violoncello instead of a person. Raoul also starts kicking his assistants around, because there's no reason not to have him continue being randomly and purposelessly violent at this point, plus I guess he doesn't want his men to actually be motivated to succeed for him.
Can I level with you guys about Jean, the venerable Baron and Meg's husband? Jean is a terrible character. Oh, he's not abusive, so thank god for small favors in this book, but he has literally no personality, no development, no description (I have no idea what he even looks like), and is only present to be Erik's yes-man throughout the ridiculous shenanigans everyone gets into. Like every other character in the book who isn't a villain, he's so far up Erik's ass he can see out his mouth and carry on conversations with his wife, and never appears or does anything that isn't designed to be part of the high-fiving and supporting Erik club that everyone is in. As happens often in later versions of the story, this novel has responded to the fact that Erik has no family or support structure in Leroux's novel, where he is the ultimate outcast who cannot interact with other humans, by "correcting" the issue and surrounding him in people who love, support, and blindly obey him no matter what's going on or how little sense it makes for them to do so. This is a choice that makes the Phantom much more human and relatable as a hero for readers to root for, but that also utterly destroys his symbolic value as an outcast and representative of humanity's mistreatment of its undervalued citizens.
At any rate, Erik doses Raoul with shrooms here to make him hallucinate, I guess because it's more fun than hiding and he wanted to make sure Raoul knew he was alive in case the police were not already involved. Alas, the dudes did not kill one another, so my dreams go unfulfilled yet another day.
Chapter 25: The Abduction Recalled
Christine has demanded that Raoul buy her a separate house to live in and provide her an allowance lest she tell the world his secret, so he does that here, on the promise that she does not involve anyone except for Meg's family in the whole messy business. Hilariously, Christine's lawyer, Toussaint, huffs about talking about how great their case will be for divorce and how much Raoul won't be able to do anything about it, which suggests to me that he must not be a very good lawyer or else he would be aware that divorce is illegal in France at this time and won't become legalized until 1884 (see, there would have been a reason not to set the story back a decade or two!). They do explore the much more feasible option of annulment as well, since Catholic ecclesiastical law would declare a marriage in which one spouse was infertile to be invalid, but considering that Christine would also have to explain to the church the existence of her two children, I wouldn't hold out a lot of hope for her on that one.
Do you guys remember Grace, LaPointe's waifish totally-not-Cosette daughter? Madame Giry has adopted her into her home rather than leaving her in her unfortunate circumstances, so we are afforded the opportunity to learn that the eight-year-old has been sexually molested at some point in her life. No one ever examines her or anything, Erik just knows. I could have divined that one psychically myself; this book doesn't know what to do with female characters without assaulting them sexually. What, are we going to start always wanting REASONS for why bad things happen to women and girls in this book? God, you want the abuse to be there for some PURPOSE other than general angst for Erik to chew on?
At this point, Christine is hypnotized in order to regress her to the events of Leroux's novel, so we can hear her narrate them from her point of view mostly in order to establish that she never loved Raoul (the closest she'll admit to is being "enamored" of him) and this was all a really big, really drawn-out misunderstanding.
The description of Erik's kidnapping of Christine is fully stomach-churning; it goes from her hating and fearing him as he drags her down into the depths to a complete about-face turn when he makes her breakfast and dresses nicely the next morning, prompting her to totally change her mind and decide that she likes him. He then gives some massively creeptastic speeches about how she just needs to stay with him a while so she can "appreciate the depth of his feelings", and how she has "come of age and needed a man, a mate, and that he was going to be that man." UTTER barfs, all over my living room, you guys. I can't decide if it's worse that this is being sold as romantic instead of coercive and entitled, that Christine's character is being jackhammered into loving it instead of standing up for herself as she did in Leroux's novel, or that de Mendes marketed this book as a sexy Phantom tour de force.
And it can and does get worse, because Christine goes on to explain that Erik offered to let her go in two weeks' time if she didn't want to be his wife by then, and that she responded by screaming and attacking him in fury that he would dare keep her against her will, and this narrative makes her be fucking ashamed of herself for not agreeing meekly and submitting to his love after everything she'd just been through. Just... fuck everything, it is not a cocktail time of day but I need like six of them.
Erik removes Christine's stockings in this flashback in order to give her a leg massage, which I have to wonder if it might be a shoutout to the 2004 movie again and the mystery of Christine's vanishing legwear.
The first time they have sex (well, of course Erik was Christine's first lover, it is very important to make sure we understand that his penis claimed her before Raoul's) is now related in explicit detail, like all other sex scenes in the book, but since this is something Christine is actually verbalizing out loud to tell everyone else, I feel like no one in that room or my living room needed this level of detail about her sex life.
Anyway, the backstory is finally concluded when, in this clearly retconned version, Erik abandons Christine on the shore after the two weeks are over even though she cries and screams for him to come back (what), and Raoul finds her there and hauls her out by force even though she doesn't want to go (what), and then everyone is too freaking action-challenged to do anything but accidentally fall into relationships and marriages they apparently have no interest in whatsoever (WHAT), because de Mendes fails utterly here at constructing anything approaching a coherent explanation for this nonsensical situation that all the characters were shoved into. There is literally no mention whatsoever of Christine's feelings after all this or of why on earth she married Raoul; sure, we can make guesses that she wanted the security or stability of marrying someone wealthy or that she liked him but just not that much or that he was just very persistent or she was worried she might be pregnant, but in reality we don't know because the author didn't bother to tell us, because it could not be any more obvious that Christine and her feelings do not matter in the slightest except as trophies for dudes to fight over.
For the final crowning hit-you-with-a-lawnchair move, Christine goes on to describe herself as "smug and priggish" for resisting Erik's advances in the past, and tells him that he DID THE RIGHT THING when he lied and forced her, because otherwise she would have said no. NO SHIT SHE WOULD HAVE SAID NO, BECAUSE SHE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ASSAULTED AND ABUSED AND MANIPULATED, NO SHIT, SHE WOULD HAVE HAD THE ABILITY TO EXERCISE HER OWN FREE WILL BECAUSE IT IS NOT HER JOB TO MAKE HIS LIFE BETTER, NO FUCKING SHIT.
IT IS NOT CHRISTINE'S JOB TO MAKE ERIK HAPPY. SHE IS A PERSON WHO CAN DO WHATEVER THE FUCK SHE WANTS. IT IS NOT OKAY FOR ANYONE TO JUST CONTINUE TO FORCE AND PRESSURE AND COERCE AND LIE TO GET SOMEONE WHERE THEY WANT THEM ROMANTICALLY OR SEXUALLY JUST BECAUSE OTHERWISE THEY WOULD HAVE SAID NO. THAT IS THE DEFINITION OF COERCION AND RAPE. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.
I AM BLIND WITH RAGE.
Chapter 26: Heat from the Dragon
Can the dragon SET EVERYONE ON FIRE SO I CAN GO?
Raoul is a full-on drunk now, although really he stopped resembling Raoul a long time ago and we could probably rename him something totally different now with no consequences. In fact, he could have been someone totally different with no consequences - how hard would it have been to say that Christine ended up rejecting both suitors from that dark time in her life and ended up with someone else who WAS characterized this way? Apparently too hard.
By the way, ever since the revelation that Christine has been seeing someone on the side, she and Raoul have been having the same on-again off-again fight in which he contends that he's obviously a better choice for her because he really wants her while this other guy has never tried to "claim" her or take her away so he obviously can't care that much, and Christine knows secretly that Erik wants her more so she refuses to believe him and tells him he's being stupid. Of course, no one ever mentions or considers what Christine herself might want. Because no one cares.
Anyway, I think they're finally done with that argument, because in a final blaze of bad writing, Raoul ties Christine to the bed and then burns the house down around her because of his unfathomable evil. And also his unfathomable foolishness, because he accidentally also sets himself on fire.
Erik rescues both of them and says that his rescue of Raoul is "for Philippe", which is confusing because of how hard he keeps insisting that he's guiltless in Philippe's death, and neither of them die but Raoul lapses into critical and heavily-burned near-death condition. Christine gets arrested for attempting to ineffectually tamper with a fire hydrant to put out the blaze, which as far as I can tell is purely so that de Mendes can describe how her clothes were ripped in the struggle and have some more people be awful to her when the police manhandle and mock her as she's taken away.
Chapter 27: Raoul's Incantation
You know, I am actually genuinely surprised that it took until page 391 for this book to directly quote lyrics from Lloyd Webber's musical. (Also, yes. There are still over 100 pages left in this book. I started playing Kansas' "Carry On Wayward Son" on a loop to force myself to finish it at this point.)
Detective Edwards is still snooping around and being incredibly unsuccessful at his job as well as at courting Madame Giry, who thinks a lot of internal thoughts about how much contempt she has for him while he's being kind and genuine at her. Alas, Edwards, you can't win; it's not you, it's the fact that this book does protagonist-centered morality like it's its fucking job, so since you represent a threat to Erik, you are automatically A Bad Guy. Deal with it.
Back at the chateau, Raoul does the same thing his ancestors did and tells Erik to take his place and impersonate him. Absolutely everyone saw this coming except for the characters, who are all shocked and agog, and Erik freaks out because this is UNACCEPTABLE and he doesn't want Christine to "ask him to be something he's not", because clearly he has never done THAT in his life. Also, he says it's too risky, which considering the shit he's been up to in this book previously tells me that being a Count must be somewhere along the lines of free-diving off a cliff in terms of danger.
Raoul writes (well, dictates, he's bedridden and never moving again) a letter to Erik that is intended by the author to be moving, in which he thanks Erik for allowing him to have some happy years with Christine, admits that his death is his own fault, and hands her over to his one-time rival. Since the letter is entirely about these two asshats trading Christine back and forth like a coveted Chia pet, I'm not very touched.
Everyone mutually agrees that they should forgive Raoul, because he obviously would have untied and rescued Christine before he burned to death, he just got himself set on fire before he could repent his evil ways. I hate everyone in this book.
Chapter 28: Impersonating the Dead
It's worth examining here the inherent issues of classism in Leroux's novel, and how they've played out in an unconscious way in de Mendes' sequel. Where Leroux implied through the character of Erik that the class striations of society and the abuses higher classes visited on lower eventually resulted in the creation of evil and suffering that could have been avoided, de Mendes goes a step further by literally killing off the upper class (in the person of Raoul) and handing over his wealth and possessions, including Christine, to the lower class (in the person of Erik), thus gaining vengeance for the mistreatment and redistributing that unfair concentration of riches. However, de Mendes' novel lacks the self-awareness to be intentionally making a comment on these issues, and as a result is inconsistent in its execution (for example, the Baron Castellot-Barbezac, whose wealth and power are considered normal and benevolent) and in the end simply ends up changing who is placed in power over others, rather than examining the power structures themselves. Leroux's novel was in part about the damage that classism does to all parts of a society; de Mendes' book is about the suffering of a single individual, and simply "fixes" the problem by making him part of the privileged class rather than addressing whether there should be a privileged class at all.
Only the one person, though. As we saw earlier in the book, other poor people are scum and should be treated as such.
In spite of his utter bastardry, Raoul, delirious and near dying, hallucinates that his dead brother Philippe is there with him, which is pretty sympathetic. He is reaching out to his lost brother to the last, and the occasional theme throughout the book of Raoul needing his older brother's guidance and being lost without it is still poignant.
Erik, meanwhile, has a dream in which he sees Christine but she speaks with Raoul's voice, and he proceeds to refer to that person as a "he-she" for the rest of the scene. Not only is that phrase generally pretty enormously offensive to transgender and gender-fluid people (not a good choice in any context except for use by a character who is intended to be an asshole!), but it's also pretty inexcusable writer laziness. Seriously, it is not that hard to find a workaround for three pronouns over the course of a couple of paragraphs. I promise.
I am offended on Raoul's behalf when, dying, he begs to know if Erik killed his brother. The revisionist version revealed here is that Philippe's death was an accident (although Erik notes that it was kind of an accident that was his fault, which should surprise no one), so Raoul dies believing that his brother's death was his own fault for needing to be rescued when he ran into the underground after Christine.
Madame Giry and her household promptly move into the de Chagny chateau with everyone, because, as always, she is an accessory to Erik, not a person who does things on her own recognizance.
On page 417, de Mendes completely leaves the realm of sense and this conversation between Erik and Christine happens:
"'And I love you with the positive P-L-Y words.'
'The ply words, you love me with the ply words?'
'Oui.' He nuzzled her abdomen with his forehead then looked up at her. 'Looser here please.' He pointed to the strips over his nose. 'Yes, the positive P-L-Y words are: powerfully, possessively, passionately, phenomenally, and any other P-L-Y words I can come up with.'"
Leaving aside the fact that he's somehow "nuzzling" with his forehead (that's hard to visualize, isn't it?), Erik, Christine... you are in France. You are speaking in French. So why on earth are you either A) having this conversation in English so those words and letters make sense, or b) not making any sense whatsoever? Seriously. Even just making them P-words would have worked, but no, you had to stop making any sense whatsoever.
Erik is officially renamed "Angel" to stop anyone from accidentally calling him by the wrong name, and the (modern, but probably still resonant with readers) idea is advanced that he has symbolically died and become an angel, so the name is appropriate. Well, and also he actually IS an angel, but presumably he doesn't know that since as far as I can tell Christine has never mentioned it to him.
Chapter 29: Dear Sisters
But alas, we still can't go yet - first we need one last hurrah of dramatically misogynist manufactured drama in the form of Raoul's two sisters, who everyone is not quite sure how to handle now that they want to visit their brother and see how he's recuperating and potentially notice that he is a totally different person now. Normally I'm all for realistic problems, especially in cases of mistaken/hidden identity plots, but I really just want out of this book at this point.
Interestingly enough, Erik has a "full head of wavy black hair", which suggests influence from Butler's 2004 film portrayal of the Phantom again, but in an effort to make him look more disfigured from the fire and less like someone who is not actually Raoul, they end up waxing most of his head except for a few clumps of hair, which is more in keeping with his hairstyle in most stage productions of the Lloyd Webber musical.
Raoul's sisters, once they arrive, are Lucille Michelle de Chagny-Rouseau and Jacqueline Antonia de Chagny-Laurent, and also apparently both countesses. As per usual for all females in this novel's world, it is entirely their fault - in this case, it's their fault that Raoul was such an asshole, since he was spoiled and "soft" from all their feminine intervention and only Philippe, through the mighty masculine power of possessing a penis, prevented them from ruining him entirely. SIGH.
Characters insist on calling them "Luce" and "Jacky" as nicknames, again because apparently this is alternate-universe France where everyone speaks colloquial English.
In spite of Erik's attempts to impersonate Raoul, the sisters are not fooled by his imposterism and immediately go to the police... where, like poor Alexander Constantine before them, they are thoroughly made fun of for their suspicions and mocked for their mannerisms, rather than acknowledging the fact that they probably have very real fear, pain, and anger over the fact that their brother is missing and some stranger is attempting to take his place, apparently with the collusion of his wife. No, we're not going to address the fact that they're probably afraid their brother is dead (he is) and that they have a very justifiable reason to be furious with some asshole trying to capitalize on that death; nah, let's just make fun of their little hats and way of talking.
DeVille the elder dies at the end of this chapter. Like everyone else, he was only a vehicle for Erik to have feels anyhow, so his death is really just there so everyone can wallow in pain and feel bad for him but really mostly feel bad for Erik because it's not fair when he loses friends because he has so few already, whiiiiine.
To de Mendes' credit, however, Jewish funerary rites and beliefs are treated with appropriate respect and a good amount of detail here, and I have nothing bad to say about the presentation of the funeral itself. It’s a very small victory when we have killed off all the Jewish characters in the novel and one of them was a bizarrely evil rapist who hid his heritage because it was shameful.
Chapter 30: Inspect My Face
Every other sentence in this thing is an automobile crash. "The boy had great traction on the sculpted patterns of the immense Chinese carpet, and occasionally Grace slowed down to let him grab her skit - creating a backward pull against her run with resulting peels of laughter from them both." Thanks for that, page 442. Just... all of that.
de Mendes apparently can't let us go without as many "shocking twists" as possible, so here near the end of the book it is revealed that Erik's mother was actually a Jewish woman, and that he turns out to be the stepson of the old DeVille who just died. We were just informed a few moments ago, you see, that the older DeVille had a young bride who was kidnapped on their wedding night and never heard from again, and Erik happens to overhear this and realize that the missing woman had the same first name as his mother, so naturally even though there is going to be some more investigation on the part of the characters, we all know where this one is going. So we have another Jewish character after all, one who is positively portrayed (or at least, the author is trying to portray him positively), although where the reveal comes is confusing.
Making Erik himself actually of Jewish descent is an interesting choice; like the versions of the story that make him Romani, it makes him part of an ethnic group that is traditionally oppressed and mistreated in European societies including France at the time of this story, adding a further layer to his characterization as the ultimate downtrodden outsider. It remains to be seen if de Mendes will actually do anything with that idea in future books in this series, though. Here, it’s more decorative than anything else.
Raoul's sisters, who have not given up on outing Erik as having stolen their brother's fortune and possibly killed him (how dare they), are further derided as "overbearing", "indifferent", and full of "self-righteous indignation", and everyone agrees that they're just causing problems because they're bitter people who like causing problems, not because they have a legitimate and pretty goddamned major grievance or anything.
Alas, the sisters have the book shut on their case by Edwards, who in spite of coming face to face with Erik does not connect him to all the Phantom shenanigans that his fellow policemen mentioned in connection with the Girys and instead tells the sisters that he's totally a better judge of who their brother is than they are. Case closed!
Chapter 31: Carnivorous Rats
It's too much to hope for an eleventh-hour reveal of Julian Sands in all his platinum-blond glory just from the title of this chapter, but you have to admit, it would improve the overall book like 400%. He could just have rats eat everyone.
Conveniently, Erik's mother has a living identical twin sister so that it can be confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is definitely DeVille's stepson, and even more conveniently, she left behind a massive fortune in the bank, so he is able to re-float Raoul's sunken shipbuilding business and begin living in the lap of luxury again without needing to so much as lift a finger. Thanks, magical plot fairy!
But never mind all that, because before we can leave Erik needs to have one last massive nervous breakdown, in which he loses his mind in his guilt over Philippe's death (he admits that while he didn't touch him, he did intentionally frighten him into falling into the lake and drowning, so that he can feel bad about it but everyone can tell him it's not really his fault) and starts hallucinating and painting rats all over the walls. Well, Erik's pretty unstable on the best of days, so all that isn't too over the top...
...except that Christine responds by sacrificing a sheep to Anubis and then using it to draw a blood circle around the house to, I don't even know, keep out the evil spirits or some shit. I don't even know where to begin on that one. I'm impressed that she calls the god "Anpu", which is likely to be closer to the original Egyptian form of his name ("Anubis" is the Greek variant), but blood sacrifices of sheep are so not Anubis' thing, and I have no idea what she thinks he's going to do for her even if they were, other than show up to perform appropriate embalming rites if Erik goes belly-up. Well, actually I do, because among other things she says that Anubis is "the personification of time itself", the "god of magic", "the diplomat with the dark and sardonic nature", "the Changeling" and "the one who is not what you appear to be"... but that is straight-up gibberish when applied to Anubis. He isn't any of those things. He weighs things and he puts organs in jars, man. He is not some kind of dark trickster figure.
Plus, with all the emphasis on Judaism in the past several chapters, I was really expecting the sheep slaughter to lead to Passover.
Chapter 32: Underground
Erik, still hallucinating, escapes and returns to his old lair under the opera house, where he hides in a coffin. Like all the other characters, I, too, am confused about the lack of apparent trigger for his sudden breakdown and the convenient-to-narrative nature of his psychological problems, none of which appear to be a problem except in a dramatic but safe for everyone way. I was playing around with the idea of whether or not perhaps the psychological stress of impersonating a man whose brother he had killed might be getting to him, but never mind me, it turns out he's just being poisoned with some kind of nineteenth-century LSD.
By Imel, of all people, who if you've forgotten is Madame Giry's brother who mysteriously turned up a while ago but was totes cool with everyone saying he had to pretend to be someone else because they had publicly killed him off a while ago. Or so Erik and Christine immediately assume, despite a total dearth of motive, because... well, they guess, but they're incapable of guessing wrong so Imel it is. Erik ends up fine, though, because of the supernatural power of his constitution or something.
These people. Nobody wonders why, nobody tries to go find out, nobody is interested in what's happening. Nah, it's straight into "He was probably trying to kill you, let's drown him."
Chapter 33: Lixivium
In the fine established tradition of villains in this book, Imel does turn out to be the perpetrator, and also to be super evil for no apparent reason and with no prior warning whatsoever, because he's a villain, okay, and they're bad people. In a Scooby-Doo-worthy rant to the people he has just failed to poison, he says that he tried to kill Erik simply because he doesn't like him, pretty much. Oh, and he's also been sexually molesting little Grace, too, which has never been so much as hinted at before, because he has to be THE MOST EVIL POSSIBLE and that's literally what Grace is in this story for in the first place. ARGH.
Everyone then murders him in the basement, but that's okay, because as they begin to wonder if they'll get away with it (why not? have you seen the police here?), Detective Edwards steps dramatically from the shadows and tells them that he was just inducted into their little group and he is totally on board with Erik and how important and wonderful he is and how he can do no wrong, so he'll go ahead and just sweep this right under the police rug.
FINE. WHATEVER. IT'S THE LAST CHAPTER.
Madame Giry marries Edwards, of course, because now that he's joined Team Good Guy it's important that he be rewarded and she sure as shit wasn't here to be doing anything of her own in this book. And then, thank god, the book has ended... but not before the last page reminds us in large letters, molded from the very distilled essence of despair itself, that a sequel is incoming.
This book has a pretty egregious problem with inserting random violence, usually sexual in nature, into its narrative purely because the plot is not generating enough action and/or the characters do not have enough emotional investment, which is lazy writing at best and depressingly boring and disconnected for the reader at worst. But the fact that almost all of that violence is perpetrated by men and visited on women, some of whom (like Grace or Erik's mother) exist for the express reason to have violence enacted upon them to give other people feelings, is an added layer of unnecessary grossness on top of a story already put together very poorly.
de Mendes has a decent command of writing and a part of me hates to fail this book when it's not so mechanically poor that the reader can't follow what's happening, but it's so chock-full of awful inconsistency, poor storytelling, and outright biphobia and misogyny that I just can't imagine ever reading it again or recommending it to someone else. This is only the first in a series by de Mendes, of which I have several to look forward to, and I can only hope that the next ones improve as the author finds some sea legs and moves further away from Leroux's novel and closer to original material.