Susan Kay’s best novel that I have read so far is the Phantom, which is loosely based on the classic “Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux.
In Kay’s Phantom, she describes the life of Erik, the so called Phantom, who is despised by his mother at an early age due to he being ugly in contrast to his mother who is a beautiful, upper crust type aristocratic, but vain and spoiled young woman. The novel describes the trials and tribulations of poor Erik, who right from his birth, due to his ugliness has a roller coaster ride kind of life. Early on his mother, the pretty but vain young woman by the name of Madeleine, puts a mask on his face as she cannot stand his face. She does this soon after he is born in the year 1831 in a place called Boscherville, near Rouen in France. She is scared and contemptous of her own son, whom she despises and never allows to leave the house, making the poor boy sleep in the attic of their house. Her husband Charles unfortunately passes away soon after Erik is conceived and she has to raise the boy alone. Perhaps that is why, or due to her own immature and vain nature, she mistreats the boy a lot.
Being forced to wear a mask and look at the mirror at himself, the boy somehow acquires the qualities of an illusionist or conjurer. His house is in a village whose residents are ignorant and superstitious. They fear him and he, them. Erik then runs away from home and stumbles upon a Gypsy camp. The Gypsies then see that he has completely different looks than any of them, like a freak. They use him to their own advantage and exploit the poor boy, who is made to be in a cage and be exhibited at fairs across the country as kind of freak show. However he overcomes these difficult circumstances and persuades the show organizers to allow him to show his conjuring tricks and illusions, that become a hit with the audience. In this way he gains some self respect too. Later on, he succeeds in escaping from the camp and moves to Rome, where he encounters a master mason called Giovanni, who recognizes his inbuilt talent for art and architecture and takes him under his tutelage.
After a few more twists and turns the story progresses to the point where he suddenly becomes an important part of the Persian court and is kind of court jester to the Khanum, the prince’s mother. The rest of the story then continues along similar lines as the original Phantom of the Opera novel. He (Erik) wants to design and build a great Opera House in France, but is already beaten to it by somebody else. He then comvinces the winner of the bid to allow him to collaborate in its construction. His design is fantastic for its time, involving an underground lake and a maze of tunnels and rooms. Due to hi ugly face however he is forced to hide from the public and behaves somewhat like a ghost in the opera. He can sing well and is well versed in music, so that is where the title “Phantom of the Opera” gets its name from. Erik is the phantom.
I am sure that you will enjoy the book, do read it!
About Myself: I am a fan of Susan Kay and a professional engineer in my daytime job, whose main job is involved in training of a safety technique called HAZOP. This is so far removed from the subject of Kay’s Phantom novel, that I mention it only in passing. I hope this somehow shows that Kay’s fans come from all walks of life and not only from the literature, film or music/operatic background! I also love to bike.