Friday, July 27, 2012

Reviews From an HBN (The Phantom of Manhattan - Frederick Forsyth)

I figured you've heard me complaining about this one enough that it's about time I gave you my review of it. I read this a year and a half ago, and the memory is still fresh in my mind. *shudder*

In The Phantom of Manhattan, acclaimed, bestselling suspense novelist Frederick Forsyth pens a magnificent work of historical fiction, rife with the insights and sounds of turn-of-the-century New York City, while continuing the dramatic saga which began with Gaston Leroux's brilliant novel The Phantom of the Opera...

More than two decades have passed since Antoinette Giry, the mistress of the corps de ballet at the Paris Opera, rescued a hideously disfigured boy named Erik from a carnival and brought him to live in the labyrinthine cellars of the opera house. Soon thereafter, his intense, unrequited love for a beautiful chorus girl set in motion a tragic string of events, forcing him to flee Paris forever. Now, as she lies dying in a convent, Madam Giry tells the untold story of the Phantom and his clandestine journey to New York City to start anew, where he would become a wealthy entrepreneur and build the glorious Manhattan Opera House...all so he could see his beloved, now a famous diva, once again. But the outcome of her visit would prove even more devastating than before-- and yet, would allow the Phantom to know, for the first time in his brutal life, the true meaning of love...


And now, my review as posted on GoodReads:

So this is what regret feels like....

Against my better judgment and the advice of everyone I've heard mention this atrocity, I went to the library and borrowed The Phantom of Manhattan. Thank God I didn't actually waste money on buying it. I ended up reading it as fast as I could--not because it was any good at all, but just to get it over with as soon as possible. And I still have no clue how I managed to keep from throwing the stupid thing across the room in disgust. Unless I was paralyzed by aforesaid disgust...

I had some idea of what I was in for just by reading that arrogant, self-righteous, jumped-up preface. After a brief history of POTO in print, film, and stage (none of which is really necessary, but vaguely interesting), Forsyth actually has the nerve to insist that Gaston Leroux--without whom none of this would even exist--got his own story wrong! Oh, hell to the NO! He then proceeds to boost his own ego in regards to his work by picking on such trivial details from the original such as whether or not cutting the gas from the light system would result in instant darkness and the fact that Leroux never gives his narrative an exact date. If an author falls to belittling another person's work in such a manner, it's best to just drop the book and forget it completely. Sadly, my stubborn streak wouldn't let me off the hook so easily, and I kept reading.

Now onto the rest of the book. It's told in first person, and at first that seems like a good thing ("Hey, we'll get to see it from a more personal point of view!"). However, except for one chapter featuring Mme. Giry, who you'd think we'd see more of, based on the summary of the book, and two, just two, chapters narrated by Erik himself, we're held at arms length by reporters, lawyers, carnival workers, and the like. Who are these people to us? They're plot devices that keep us away from the characters we really care about. Top it all off with the fact that the writing itself is completely unremarkable, and you've got serious problems.

The plot is barely held together by all these faceless people! It just jumps from one seemingly random event to another! Forsyth makes a HUGE mistake with Erik's characterization! I'm not blind to the dear Phantom's faults and flaws, but I hardly think he would keep on in this insane obsession if he'd really learned his lesson in the original. And while the ending might
--MIGHT--have been as tragic as it was intended, telling us about it in a college lecture has exactly the opposite effect. As I read it, the only thought in my head was "And why should I care about this?"

Quick side note before I wrap this up. I'm not Raoul's biggest fan, but was it necessary to go so far as to do that to the poor man? That's the worst case of Raoul-bashing I've ever heard of!

Bottom line: I honestly cannot recall ever hating a book outright, but this is horrible! In addition to insulting Leroux, Forsyth botches the intended homage to his apparently idolized Andrew Lloyd Webber (and we wonder how Love Never Dies came into being?). No wonder the musical bombed in London, based off this garbage! But I will admit, I prefer a barely-there, much abused Raoul to the gambling alcoholic Webber gave us.

And that's that. Haven't read it yet? Take the advice I didn't, and don't. If you have, then you have my sympathies.

Your humble book nerd,


  1. RoseOfTransylvaniaAugust 3, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    I don´t think I read this, it sounds a bit boring. And ditto to "the original writer was wrong" bit. There is better fan fiction, FREE fan fiction, out there.

  2. RoseOfTransylvaniaAugust 3, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    I forgot to mention: cover of that PoM edition is beautiful!

    1. Hey, Rose!

      That's the worst part about it; even if it hadn't been so offensive to Leroux, it was still boring. The cover really was the best part of it.

      Amen for better and FREE fan fiction!

  3. (Sweetly Intoxicated) Angels, I concur with your review. I always try to glean something good from the bad. The good "advise" I think can be used by writers of fiction, comes from Forsyth's preface, as follows: "Looking at his original text today, frankly one is in a quandary. The basic idea is there and it is brilliant, but the way poor Gaston tells it is a mess. He begins with an introduction, above his own name, claiming that every line and word is true. Now, that is a very dangerous thing to do. To claim quite clearly that a work of fiction is absolutely true and therefore a historical record is to offer oneself as a hostage to fortune and to the skeptical reader, because from that moment on every single claim that can be checked must be absolutely true. Leroux breaks this rule on almost every page.
    An author can start a story cold, seemingly recounting true history but without saying so, leaving the reader guessing as to whether what he is reading truly happened or not. Thus is created that blend of truth and invention now called faction. A useful ploy in this methodology is to intersperse the fiction with genuinely true interludes that the reader can either recall or check out. Then the puzzlement in the reader's mind deepens but the author remains innocent of an outright lie. But there is a golden rule to this: everything you say must either be provably true or completely unprovable either way." He goes on to give an example. Sorry about the lengthy quote, but I do think it's good advise for writers of fiction that want to state that IT"S TRUE!! IT"S TRUE!!

    1. Actually, that was the one part of the book, let alone that preface, that made any kind of sense. While I still think Forsyth can shove it for his misplaced arrogance, he does have a point when it comes to "faction," I think he called it. Either way, I'm just tremendously glad I have Michelle's stories to read instead of this baloney!

    2. (Sweetly Intoxicated) You and me both! And I'm looking forward to your, what sounds like a very dark Phantom story, as well.

    3. I'm still working on that one, but I've got a few others laying around if you want to take a look at them. I'm not as good as Michelle, but I do my best. :)

  4. (Sweetly Intoxicated) I just saw this. When you say stories laying around, do you post them on PotOforum or? Were you the one who posted the Phantom strangles Christine, then kills himself story? Is so, it was quite riveting. Sorry, I get stories mixed up. Di

    1. I post on the forum and, and there's links under the "self-promotion" page at the top of the blog. And yep, that was me! I was scared to death posting that one!

  5. (Sweetly Intoxicated) The dark side of me liked the strangle story. Sometimes I get irked with Christine and the comments she makes about Erik to Raoul, almost like leading two men on. The phrase "Love Hurts" became "Love Kills". Thanks for a shockingly good story!


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