July 13, 2005

Recent Reading

What with my nice, relaxing, 14 hour-a-week job, I have plenty of time for reading, of which I have been taking full advantage. My two most recent books were A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway, and The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux, which was suddenly inserted into my reading list because, (a) it was a library book, thus I have to return it, and (b) my mother couldn't read it because it wasn't like the musical at all. I'll try to convince her to read it when my parents gets back from vacation.

Unlike "The Big, Two-hearted River," I thorougly A Farewell to Arms, even though it is mostly written in the same utterly simple style. The thing is, it worked. For example, when Mr. Henry has a barber come to his room, the barber is described simply as "a man of about fifty with an upturned mustache." That's all the detail we get, but that's all the detail we need to picture a barber from the narrator's position.

Even though his style is simple, Hemingway accurately portrays a wide array of emotions. For example, when describing the love between Mr. Henry and Catherine, he says,

Often a man wishes to be alone and a girl wishes to be alone too and if they love each other they are jealous of that in each other, but I can truly say we never felt that. We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others. It has only happened to me like that once. I have been alone while I was with many girls and that is the way that you can be most lonely. But we were never lonely and never afraid when we were together.
Near the end, we some of the pessimism that surrounded World War I.
That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you. Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you.
There's also a lovely, if too lengthy to put here, passage that is stream-of-consciousness if there ever was such a thing. While it's not from a mad mind, it is from someone who is very agitated, and while his thoughts are all on one subject, they bounce around from question to answer to completely different question to reprimand and back.

All in all, I highly recommend A Farewell to Arms, a "poignant novel, set in Italy during World War I, [that] is one of the most moving love stories ever written, a classic of its kind" (from the back cover).

Yesterday evening, I finished Alexander Teixeira de Mattos' translation of Gaston Leroux's Le Fantome de l'Opera on which Andrew Lloyd Webber's show The Phantom of the Opera is based. While the two have the same general plot, the details are almost universally different, and the musical leaves out one very crucial character.

After watching the musical, I was glad to see Christine leave the phantom and return to Raoul. The phantom is a monster, who shows a single act of mercy, but in spite of that, you don't pity him. He's a murderer. At the end of the novel, I found myself, like Christine and the Persian, at once despising Erik for being such a monster and pitying him because all he wanted was to love and be loved in return. In the end, Christine's pity saved Erik. He says,

I felt here tears flow on my forehead ... on mine, mine! [...] I tore off my mast so as not to lose one of her tears ... and she did not run away! ... And she did not die! ... She remained alive, weeping over me, with me. We cried together! I have tasted all the happiness the world can offer!

While Erik's supreme good act is hardly enough to redeem him in the eyes of the reader, it seems that Christine's salvific tears have that power. We have the archetypal Christian narrative played out on a small scale. The tears of the innocent Christine cleansing the soul of the monster. After this redemption of sorts, Erik does his best to right all the wrongs he has committed, letting Christine go, and returning his "salary" to the managers of the opera. While nothing else is explicitly stated about what he does in his last days, I would like to think that he is mourning his past, while keeping the image of his angel, Christine, to affect his total redemption.

My only complaint about the novel is the addition of the prologue and epilogue, which "add authenticity" to the story. The epilogue in particular detracted from the novel. We go from a very touching scene between Erik and the Persian to a dry explanation of the "authenticity" of the story. The other problem was with the particular printing that I read; there were tons of typographical errors. In the first two chapters, for instance, Meg Giry is referred to as "little Gary," and Raoul is "Roul." When you read the novel, as I recommend you should, I suggest taking a nice break between finishing chapter 26 and beginning the epilogue. Posted by Gallagher at July 13, 2005 09:39 AM