When Angels Wept (2005)
by M. Absinthe
So, y’all, I've been at this for a while. I've seen iron-pumping mall Phantoms, sardonically insulting rock palace Phantoms, Japanese high school girl Phantoms, and wild alien Phantoms from other planets. Sometimes it feels like there is no possible weirdness an author could perpetrate that I would not be prepared for.
And when you throw down a challenge like that, the universe comes out swinging.
It is difficult to explain exactly what’s going on in this book. You think you have an inkling from the lovingly Photoshopped cover art featuring Gerard Butler (now with bonus demonic flames) and an Impressionist ballerina (now with bonus angelic wings), but you do not. There is no way to have any real concept of this book without reading it. I just read it and I'm still not sure I really have a concept of it.
And, sadly, since it takes itself completely seriously and has a perfectly miserable grasp of the original story's ideas and themes, it is also tragically comic.
This is obviously coming from a tiny wee vanity press, and it's reflected in the quality of the publishing. This is not a book that's ever making its way onto Barnes & Noble's shelves, and it does not apologize for rampant font bizarritude or uncontained italics and size modulations here and there, not even when they occur on page 1. The quote from Leroux's novel on the same page, however, is lovely despite these tribulations, and appropriate considering the title of the book.
This is less a prologue and more of a brief manifesto to let us in on the author's plans early on so we aren't confused. Its dryly explanatory tone lacks a bit in interest, but the concept itself is actually pretty intriguing; Absinthe sets out to give us a brief explanation of gargoyles, as in the ones on your church roof that collect and spout rainwater, and assigns them sentience as a group of creatures in her novel. I was interested. After all, gargoyles in their many forms are found all over Paris, and a novel from their point of view as silent observers could be really interesting, sort of an "if these walls could speak" kind of thing. In these modern times of rampant vampire/werewolf/fairy/zombie literature bursting off of every bookstore's shelves, gargoyles are an intriguing possibility for a less traditional, less frequently-explored kind of folkloric being.
Then, of course, we set about ruining it with theology. Gargoyles, it turns out, are actually a class of angels in charge of lurking about the homes of mankind to protect them from "demons", a nebulous, probably-Catholic concept never further explored in the book. They're directly supervised by the Archangel Michael (on the theory, I assume, that he's in charge of all the hosts, though honestly they aren't really doing anything much but sitting around on buildings from what I can see), who has for some reason decreed that they're supposed to be epically ugly because it helps them blend into the landscaping or something. As you would expect, they therefore have inverted notions of beauty when compared to humanity and consider what humans would call hideousness to be the ideal standard of appearance (or so Absinthe tells us, though already I'm confused as to why angels have a standard of appearance at all). Oddly enough, Absinthe talks blithely about angels and even Michael by name, but she never mentions either God or his opposite number directly; instead, she talks in vagaries, discussing the Light and the Darkness, which God and "the Great Dark One" are apparently subordinate to or an expression of. It's very poorly explained.
While a lot of the underpinnings are kind of missing, the spirit of the piece is very definitely Catholic; it's all about angels protecting mankind from demons, about the damned state in which mankind generally finds itself, and so on. At this point in the book - still in the prologue, mind you - I was aware that this was not going to be held together with the best of glues, but I was still on board. I mean, the gargoyles are an interesting concept, the writing's not terrible yet, and I confess I have a soft spot for mythologies of all kinds, so I'm all about exploring something heavily Catholicism-based. Bring it on!
The Actual Book:
There's some preposition failure (is there a lot of that going around lately, or is it just in things I'm reading?) and some bells that have "peeled forth music" early on here, but that will mostly fade into the background in view of the comedy about to burst forth.
So we're on top of the Notre Dame cathedral, where an old gargoyle has just died (apparently they return to their constituent dust when they get old enough, though why is not exactly clear since most schools of religious thought don't give angels lifespans) and a new one has just been hatched, thus continuing the circle of angelic life. Tragically, she has been born deformed! She's a smooth golden color instead of rocky, with huge amber eyes instead of grey ones, and her wings are soft and feathery instead of leathery and batlike! She's incredibly beautiful - which means she's incredibly ugly to the gargoyles! Oh, woe! They all try to be nice about how unattractive their glowing golden angel-child (they name her Jennet for some reason, though why a bunch of France-based angels want to name her in Old English is beyond me) is and start summarily dunking her in mudbaths so human passersby won't be blinded by the sparkle and notice them.
Hilarious though the mudbaths may be, they pale in comparison to the rest of this. You see, Jennet is the daughter of Petros, the patriarch of the gargoyle "clan", and his wife Danielle. There are various other snicker-inducingly-named gargoyles wandering about as well, including such fine angelic specimens as Leon, Arnaud, Francois, Marilla, Cecelia, Jean-Marc, Dominic and Margueritte. While Absinthe's descriptions are evocative enough to keep me interested, I can't shake a nagging feeling of recognition. Something about them referring to themselves as a clan, and about how Petros (even the name is ringing a bell!) and Danielle seem to resemble some other characters I feel like I know, and about how their carefully-described physical features are very non-human but also not really very ugly at all. Why, it's almost like they're...
Oh, shit. My bad. When you said gargoyles, I didn't realize you meant Gargoyles.
A brief recess will be provided for those who want to laugh until the sides of their mouths hurt, which is basically what I did at this point.
I mean, I'll be the first to say that I loved Disney's old Gargoyles television show - it was and is one of my favorite cartoons from the nineties, right up there with Pirates of Dark Water. But really? This is really happening? This is really happening, folks! Somehow I have accidentally gotten hold of a Gargoyles fan novel instead of the Phantom one I thought I was purchasing!
This review might have ended right here. I might have put the book down at this point and gone on to the next material, but you know what? I didn't, and that is why you, the reader, are about to embark on a further journey of hilariousness that will surpass your wildest dreams.
Now armed with knowledge of what these beasties look like, I have to say I am in no way concerned by their "ugliness". Even in a derivative work, Absinthe could have gone out to ugly them up a little bit to fit her concept, but she didn't. The attractive gargoyles like Danielle are described with your general positive descriptors, rather than describing the ugliness that they supposedly find attractive, and no mention is ever made of any feature that might ruin the halcyon view of them as noble, wondrous beings. In fact, the whole "ugliness is beauty and beauty ugliness" conceit is basically just there to A) make poor beautiful perfect Jennet be an ostracized sad girl, and B) pave the way for half-assed nonsense later in the story. Of course, things become yet more tragic for Jennet, who wants to sing! And let her soul wing free on the rush of song! But gargoyles can't let humans know they exist so she isn't allowed, and there is much emo sadness.
Much fuss was made in the early parts of the book about how only humans, of all God's creations, have free will and angels don't, which is pretty standard Christian theory so I didn't even register it at the time. However, in view of these gargoyles now, it is obviously a flawed statement, because these supposed "angels" are hella full of free will. They've got autonomous society, they have mates, sing lullabies, argue with one another, have sex, become insecure, and mourn other gargoyles when they die, all without the slightest amount of instruction from on high. They are, in short, exactly like humans, which I suppose should not surprise me at this point, as if I were holding desperately onto some kind of hope that Absinthe was going to be scrupulously theologically accurate. When she says “they don’t have free will”, what she means is “their society requires them to do things they don’t like because God said so”, which is identical to a giant chunk of human societies across history.
Jennet, by the way, was born on Christmas, the only gargoyle ever (EVER) to be born at the same moment as Christ. Being angels, all the other gargoyles are very excited by this portentious fact, although they don't know what it means and God doesn't explain so eventually they apparently forget about it. The obvious parallels have already begun, but in case anyone was waiting for it: Jennet's going to be a Christ-like savior figure, guys. Write it down now so you can refer back.
Oh, and in case this wasn't Disney enough yet, Cecelia, the oldest gargoyle, apparently knew Quasimodo in her youth. I would really like to believe that this has more to do with the Hugo novel than with the 1996 animated film, but discussion of how the gargoyles used to run around with him and he knew about them but took the secret to his grave kind of makes that look unlikely. These guys were related to the Gargoyles crew all along! Who knew?
By the way, I'd like to know how this swapping out of a new gargoyle for an old one when the old one dies works. I mean... this is Notre Dame. People built it and many, many other people worship in it and look at it a lot. If all the gargoyles look different, as apparently they do, how is this supposed to work? Are you just hoping no one will notice the difference? People take pictures of this place, and yet no one ever notices the gargoyles rotate out? And while we're on the subject of how this is Notre Dame, what happens to all the gargoyles humans actually carved and put on the cathedral? Are the angel-gargoyles throwing them to the boulevard, or eating them, or what? Or, wait - are they actually becoming gargoyle angels after they are carved, meaning that they are a race of angels created not by divine power but by the hand of humanity? My mind is blown.
Oh, no! Tragically, as she grows older, Jennet is getting more beautiful, not less! Her skin is changing from dull golden cream to brilliant golden splendor! Her wings are growing ever featherier and fluffier! Woe! Beauty being ugliness is a fun concept in literature. I've seen it done in absolutely breathtaking ways in fiction before (for a quick example you can find on the internet, read Luis Borges' "The House of Asterion"), but this is not that. This is as textbook painful a case of making a perfect yet tragically misunderstood character to sigh over as you're ever going to see, anywhere, ever. The gargoyles, in response to this beautifying, step up their mudbath schedule and start making plans to install her on a corner of the roof with very little traffic.
Authors, I’m begging you. Stop, stop, stop interspersing random French (and, in this story, Latin) words and phrases into the text. STOP IT. Your story is set in France, and presumably everyone is already speaking French (or, if they're angels who speak Latin, they're already speaking Latin). They are not actually speaking English. We're just reading it in English because we're English-speakers. So adding random French and/or Latin words makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. The characters aren't randomly switching languages, are they? You know what, if they are, don't tell me. My blood pressure is a delicately calibrated instrument.
Also, every time the words “magic” or “magical” are used in this book, they are spelled “majick” and “majickal”. I know that practitioners of Wicca and some other religions prefer to use J and/or K spellings, but boy did that distract me.
Has poor Jennet faced enough tragedy in her tragically tragic life yet? She has not, so a whopper is incoming. Gargoyles, Absinthe explains, all have a special slot in the back of their necks so that they can affix themselves to drainpipes and fulfill their traditional function of spewing water from their mouths while they hang out on the roof. Once they get Jennet installed, however, the whole cathedral starts reverberating with disturbing celestial sounds, and they have to remove her even though it's not her fault. You see, whenever water of any kind - including any time she decides to start crying, which will be a lot, trust me - enters Jennet's throat, it causes beautiful, incomparable, heavenly singing to pour forth from her golden throat! Woe! She is so ugly and afflicted with the horrible curse of an amazing celestial singing voice! The other gargoyles lock her up in an inside room away from all moisture so she won't make the church-goers think the place is haunted, though frankly you'd think angelic song would be interpreted as, you know, angelic song when it's happening in a freaking cathedral.
Because she is so tragically tragic and no one loves her and she wants to save her family from the pain and worry of having her ugly-ass singing self around, Jennet runs away from home. I'd just like to point out again that that's kind of the epitome of free will.
And holy crap, no sooner has she departed than the Archangel Michael, Commander of Hosts, Viceroy of Heaven, Harrier of the Great Dragon comes swanning in, prompting all the gargoyles to start groveling. I am not one hundred percent certain why, since he apparently looks like... a really pretty dude? There's absolutely zip in the way of grandeur or heavenly splendor or any of that stuff, which is pretty goddamned disappointing when we're talking about an Archangel. He's even described pretty generically, so I don't even have a great image of what he looks like. And if this is a case of "he can look however he wants, he's an angel", why would he look like a pretty human when he goes to talk to the gargoyles? That's like putting on a horrible Halloween fleshmask covered in open sores to go talk to your kids.
And now, the moment we've all been waiting for. I didn't believe it; I didn't want to believe it; but it's there, in black and white, staring up at me from the page, daring me to deny its existence.
Michael explains to everyone that they've done exactly as he wished by ostracizing Jennet (why wouldn't you just tell them to do that, you jackass? You're their boss! They're not supposed to have free will! You could have saved everyone a lot of confusion!), because she had to know the pain of true aloneness. She had to know the suffering of the outcast. This is because she's a special angel, with a special purpose: she was made to save him. As one, all the gargoyles suddenly breathe, "You mean - him?"
Meanwhile, Jennet has gone down to the crypts below Notre Dame, staggered lost through a huge maze of sewer tunnels, and finally ended up in the catacombs beneath the Opera Garnier.
It's a Phantom story after all.
Once again, intermission for incredulous laughter and/or fortifying beverages. My Bailey's and I will be conducting the rest of this review in style, because, at this point, is there a reason to be sober?
I'm just really, really disappointed. I mean, Absinthe was not doing so terribly that I was ready to write it off yet. The writing style is decently engaging if riddled with errors, the core idea of using the gargoyles of Notre Dame as characters was interesting if painfully, hilariously derivative, and Jennet herself, despite the giant, flashing, banging, whistling, blaring, garishly-decorated CLICHE CHARACTER sign over head, was not the least interesting protagonist I've ever spent time with, either. But all the trappings of Catholicism and magic and intriguing new worlds, however incompletely thought-out, have all fallen away in favor of the same tired old plot: random girl meets Erik, sees past his face and accompanying murderous tendencies, heals his inner wounds. Sigh. There were a lot of things wrong with this book, but it wasn't boring until now and I am sad.
So... you're telling me that Erik is such a special snowflake that he gets his very own personal angel to make him feel better? How lovely for him! I mean, it's not like anyone else is suffering or mentally ill or physically disfigured or anything in Paris of the late 1800s, no, I'm following you. And his out-and-out feud with a God he hates and believes cursed/abandoned him? That's like candy for angels. This plot doesn't smack of self-insert fantasy or reward-the-underdog syndrome AT ALL.
By the way, how the fuck do all the gargoyles immediately know who Erik is? What the hell is up with that? I thought initially that this story was set after the events of Leroux's novel, but in a few pages Christine's going to appear at the fresh and tender age of thirteen, so that is not the case. There's some kind of bizarre bullshit about how gargoyles love fugly humans most of all (thus their close bonding relationship with Quasimodo, apparently), but do they have a list? HE HASN'T EVEN DONE ANYTHING IN PARIS YET.
So, at any rate, Jennet stumbles around in the dark until she invades Erik's private space, and he grabs her out of the darkness and throws her into the water to drown (he can't recognize her inhuman nature because she's cleverly wearing a huge monk's habit). While this is fairly in keeping with the original Erik, all similarities to that character are about to be but a fond memory. He starts by saving her from drowning once he realizes she can't swim (but you THREW HER IN IN THE FIRST PLACE wasn’t that the PLAN), while I stare and wonder what kind of angel is capable of fucking drowning, and then, of course, it's time for him to want to know what those lovely noises she's making are because of course she's gotten water in her throat and it's all indescribably melodic tones all of a sudden. Then this incredible description comes in at the top of page 29 (YES THIS IS ONLY PAGE 29):
"He was a big man, not magnificently big like Petros, but certainly much larger than she was. He wore black trousers and a frilly white shirt opened nearly to the waist, revealing a fine mat of fur on his chest. She didn't know humans had fur and she wanted to touch it."
Pffffthahahahahahaha, oh, MAN. I had forgotten, in among all of Absinthe's determined mentions of Leroux and syncretization of the film with the locations from the book, that Butler was on the cover. Oh, god, I can't stop laughing even now. I won't be able to keep a straight face for pretty much anything else that happens, ever. He is, for some reason, not wearing any kind of mask or hood or anything that might conceal his face while he's rescuing gargoyle maidens from drowning, so of course she immediately sees his face - the carefully-scripted description could not more clearly evoke the deformity of the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film if it included visual aids - and, of course, also immediately fails to be even a bit put off by it.
In fact, she loves it. He's the most beautiful human she's ever seen! Not like her, who's all golden and smooth and ugly and shit. And she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen! Not like him, who's all deformed and ugly and shit. Oh, if only they could both be beautiful to match the other beautiful person!
Sorry. This is not a first-class flight and there are no barf bags provided free of charge. Make it to the bathroom on your own.
(Of all the versions of the Phantom to be loved for his ugliness, Absinthe picked Butler’s brooding romantic hero with his teeny-tiny deformity? This was the Leroux Erik’s moment. Now THAT’S a gargoyle hottie.)
Because Jennet is birdbrain, possibly literally, she spends about twenty-five seconds dithering over how humans aren't supposed to know gargoyles exist and this will ruin everything for the rest of her clan before immediately and completely explaining the entire angelic hierarchy to Erik when he asks nicely. This stupidity is compounded when, like all the other gargoyles, she suddenly realizes she knows who he is (but WHY? WHY?) and starts bowing and scraping and calling him Maestro, which is at least as confusing for the reader as it is for him. Look, I appreciate, again, the parallel with Quasimodo that Absinthe is gamely trying to draw again here, but seriously, what the fuck is going on?
On page 32:
"Are you an angel?"
"No, Maestro... I, I am a gargoyle." [All punctuation sillinesses are Absinthe's.]
But you SAID... oh, fuck it, you know?
Of course, Erik immediately decides to adopt her and begins calling her his Angel of Music. Delightful. They have many sublime voice lessons in his identical-to-the-2004-film lair beneath the opera house, and everyone is happier than they have ever been before. When Jennet expresses a desire to do gargoyle-esque things, he looks for the perfect place to hang her, and, what, ho! How about IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OPERA HOUSE, eh? On the front of the balcony seating so she hovers over the whole house? Dude, yes. I'm sure nothing could ever go wrong with that plan. Luckily, she fits in perfectly, since Schumacher was kind enough to put a surfeit of naked golden women all over the opera house in his film, and this book, however much it might like to pretend it's based on Leroux's novel, is all about the 2004 film. Other things that bear the unmistakable Schumacher/Butler stamp include the large red skull seal Erik uses on his letters, Christine's position as a ballet dancer, and the Phantom's hilarious tendency toward "cape swirling".
Though Erik spends plenty of time hanging out in the balcony, petting Jennet's fluffy wings and enjoying her existence, all trite and obnoxious things must eventually end and Christine finally shows up, a girl of thirteen in the ballet. Because she's also apparently a housekeeper or something, she wanders around the mysteriously empty stage and house after rehearsal cleaning things up and singing, and naturally the Phantom is instantly captivated by her voice (dude... she's thirteen. Girlfriend seriously is not sounding sublime yet, I promise you. She hasn't finished growing the equipment yet). Erik's carnival backstory, complete with rescue by Madame Giry, is also mentioned, again pointing to the 2004 film (and the Forsyth novel, from which it borrowed that particular story).
The mechanical failures are picking up speed at this point; there's an "illusive" Opera Ghost, more incorrect prepositions and missing commas than you could shake a stick at, and veritable buckets of random French words dotting the lingual landscape like discarded McDonald's wrappers. Also, and I hadn't mentioned it up until now because I was trying to power past it, there are no tab stops or normal paragraph forms in this beastie; new lines are simply double-spaced from the previous paragraph, exactly like this review, actually. Of course, I have the excuse of writing in a different format and all, whereas this book is just kind of painful on the eyes after a while. That's a whole lotta white space.
Interestingly, Erik does not call himself the Angel of Music in this version when dealing with Christine; he purports himself to be a messenger from the Angel of Music, which is what Christine refers to Jennet as. This is certainly a different approach, and I was interested to see where it might be going, but then Erik ruined it a few pages later by claiming he was the angel after all, and Christine dutifully followed up on it by believing him even though she already knew he was the Phantom.
Oh, yes, Christine apparently knows that Erik is the Phantom from day one, or so she blithely informs us in her internal monologue (yes, we get to hear her thoughts, too. We get to hear everybody's thoughts, because apparently point of view is a flexible and footloose thing in Absinthe's work. Everyone sounds the same), so that sort of removes the idea of the betrayal of her belief and trust anyway. It makes her a lot more wise to what's going on and a lot less innocent, but then again Jennet is here to be innocent and perfect, so apparently we can take some of that weight off Christine's shoulders (and deposit it on Erik's REAL Angel of Music!).
Jennet, of course, thinks that Erik's sudden obsession with this girl might not be healthy, but because she's apparently a terrible guardian angel she doesn't say anything about it. In fact, she's terrible at a lot of things, such as not moving when people are in the house or not weeping like the sad sack she is and filling the place with glorious tones of pureness blah blah blah. Most of all, she fails at being an angelic being with a specific purpose and no free will, since it's around this time that she decides (in a move that is meant to be surprising and poignant but which a blind badger could have seen coming a mile away) that she's in love with Erik and starts crying to herself all the time while he moons over Christine. I mean... who would have guessed that was coming? Gee, how will poor tragically beautiful and tragic Jennet ever know happiness? How could this story possibly end?!
By the way, Absinthe starts referring to the place as the Opera Populaire right around here, the made-up name used for Lloyd Webber's musical and the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film. This is somehow tragic after the way the author spent so much time referring to the Place de l'Opera and the Rue de Rivoli and a million other actual places in Paris.
Three years or so pass with lightning swiftness because Absinthe wants to get to the story somebody (a lot of somebodies, actually) already wrote instead of dealing with any petty side plots or original story on the way. Christine, now a teenager, believes utterly in her "angel", treats every letter of his as a "holy missive", and maintains a small shrine to him in the chapel under the opera house where she worships diligently. Somehow she also finds time to have the hots for him and imagine him as a super-hot dude, which is somewhat at odds with all the religious fervor she has going on. Oh, it could have worked beautifully - she's a teenager full of rampaging hormones, he's the focal point of her life despite being incorporeal, so it makes sense that she might fantasize about him - but there needed to be a lot more interesting context or even just description to flesh that out fully, and since there wasn't it was the same flat "the Phantom is super-hot and Christine wants him!" business I've seen a zillion times before.
Oh, and he's "illusive" again on page 48. I mean, I guess he sort of is, but I'm pretty sure Absinthe keeps shooting for "elusive" and missing by two letters. There's not a lot of illusion or visual confusion going on yet; like many Phantoms based on the eminently human figure from the Schumacher/Butler film, this one is very down-to-earth and about as un-supernatural as it is possible for him to be.
The prose is becoming so hilarious at this point that I might as well just start quoting it. You know... share the experience with all of you. I can't be the only one with a burning desire to read about Erik's "muscular form".
On page 53: "A look of distrust and anger wrestled with his features."
On page 54: "She had come to identify his many moods by the sound of his cloak."
On page 54: "He paced with the tight ferocity of a caged panther, the luxurious satin-lined cape snapping with each heel-spin he made."
On page 55: "Weariness traversed his entire being and he longed to rest in the swan bed in his lair and to drift on seas of melodic dreams."
I CAN'T DO IT. I CAN'T NOT COMMENT. My god, the love Absinthe has for Erik's spiffy 2004 film cape is incredible, isn't it? And I am DELIGHTED that he's sleeping in that twelve-year-old's-wet-dream of a bed. Isn't this the prose of your dreams? It's so polished! So considered! So pithy!
Enter Raoul and Erik's tantruming begins. He starts neglecting to visit Jennet (no!), a much more heinous sin, we are given to feel, than most of his murderous exploits below. It is refreshing to see that Absinthe doesn't try to apologize for Erik's behavior, though; Jennet is frankly horrified by his violence and nobody tries to pretend that it isn't really his fault or that it's okay because he was provoked. The constant arguments between the two of them, however, over whether or not Erik still "has a soul", are wearisome, poorly-written, and boring, particularly since everyone involved here is Catholic (one of them is an ANGEL) and nobody should be entertaining such ridiculously modern notions as not having a soul (having a damned soul, sure, but you still HAVE ONE).
In the fine tradition of all writers basing material off Lloyd Webber's musical and/or the film based on it, Absinthe makes Carlotta a universally hated harridan. What entertains me is that, when the Phantom designs her costume for Don Juan Triumphant, it is apparently both "tawdry" and "dowdy". I guess it must be high-necked matron in the front and backless party in the back, or something.
Jennet spends a lot of time uselessly praying and otherwise failing to help anyone avoid the disaster she knows is about to occur while Erik composes feverishly (he's past the point of no return, you see! I know because he told us so on page 56!). Don Juan Triumphant, performed in vaguely descriptive prose that manages to tell us nothing interesting except that it's identical to the staged performance in the 2004 film, is the usual disaster, though at least I don't have to hear Butler sing it now (though Absinthe insists on describing his singing anyway. "Rich, sensual baritone" my ass).
Erik's mask is removed and "a wave of horror tidaled over the audience." Tidaled!
Naturally, when the place inevitably burns down (but it's NOT the Garnier, remember, it's the Populaire, except it squats right on top of the Garnier or something), Jennet refuses to move from her post, gets scorched black, and sings mournful notes of pure brilliancy while the rainwater pours down out of the ruined roof. Tragically.
There's a printing error on page 62 of my copy that obscures a word, and someone - I have to assume Absinthe or someone else at the vanity press - has carefully inked the word in for me before mailing it to me. Which is actually super touching and shows that they really care about the product, hilarious though it may be.
I do have to give Absinthe props for not hosing up the final idea of redemption at the end of the story, as so many modern versions do. Yeah, there's a lot of triteness with Jennet and the Phantom locked in a sobbing embrace on the floor of the ruined opera house, but they do hit on the idea that letting Christine go was necessary, and if he continues to be a whiny moper instead of a reborn man filled with joy at his one foray into human contact and affection, well... at least he's not chasing her across the ocean in this one, right?
Absinthe directly borrows the parenthetical mini-story that the 2004 film uses and shows us Madame Giry arriving at the opera house for the auction, now old and... well, old. Like, really old, since Raoul is also old and he was at least a good twenty years younger than she was last time we saw him. All my old questions about whether this was meant to be Giry the Elder or Younger have come back, and in this case it appears Absinthe thinks it was the Elder, even though frankly that one makes less sense. Oh, and her first name is also apparently Antoinette, which was the first name assigned to her in Forsyth's novel, which seems to have passed a few scattered elements on to this one via a sort of trickle-down effect through the 2004 film.
OR NOT. PREPARE FOR ONE LAST SPURT OF CHAOS. Madame Giry boxes Jennet up and mails her to Erik... yes, mails her to Erik Mulheim in New York City.
OH MY GOD THIS IS A DIRECT PREQUEL TO FORSYTH'S NOVEL. I've never seen one before. I didn't even know they existed. And forget all the nice things I just said about Absinthe getting the redemption idea, because apparently he IS just going to go chase her across the ocean. GOD DAMN IT.
Mercifully, no mention is made of wee Pierre, at least, just of Erik installing Jennet in various parts of his various houses and spending lots of time hanging out with her and singing. Eventually he gets gracefully old and dies, and then she installs herself on the front of his mausoleum and spends the rest of eternity singing to him with celestial clarity and wonderment whenever it rains. Because fuck being an angel.
Reading audience: stunned, with mouths open.