Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: THE GHOST, A MODERN FANTASY by Arnold Bennett

book cover the ghost a modern fantasy Original Publication Date: 1907

Genre: Gothic

Topics: Love, opera, coming of age, ghosts

Review by heidenkind:

Newly minted doctor of medicine, Carl Foster, visits a long-lost cousin who just happens to be friends with the owner of an opera house. While Carl and his cousin and his cousin's wife are enjoying an opera starring two of the greatest opera singers in the world–Signor Alresca and Rosetta Rosa–the primo uomo, Alresca, suffers a mysterious accident on stage and Carl is called on to care for him. As Alresca recovers, it becomes apparent that his malady is tied somehow to Rosa. Will Carl be able to save Alresca–and himself, now that he's fallen in love with Rosa?

The Ghost is another random Librivox find. It's a bit like Phantom of the Opera Lite: it's not as fun and delicious with the drama, but it's in the same wheelhouse. As a pure entertainment read, it was enjoyable, although the ending with the "ghost" part was seriously anticlimactic.

Our narrator, Carl, is a tough character not to like. When the story starts he's not very confident and, as we're reminded frequently, very young. The latter's an important point because it's the excuse for every stupid thing he does during the course of the novel. He's not TSTL, but after awhile one does start to notice a pattern with these things. Even so, he's smart enough and not judgmental or egotistical. Plus, he doesn't go into freak out mode when confronted with the strange and unusual–a useful skill to have in this book.

Then there's the glamorous world of the opera, which Arnold Bennett uses to infuse the story with a sense of mystery and danger. Opera also provides a great excuse for Carl to travel all over Europe, from Bruges to Paris to London to Italy. I think the traveling around and opera scenes were my favorite part of the book.

As for the female characters, I found them well-drawn with their own motivations. Not that The Ghost would pass the Bechdel Test or anything, but there is more than one female character. Huzzah! Naturally the star of the show (both literally and figuratively) is Rosa, who OF COURSE is a gorgeous, misunderstood prima donna with a captivating voice. I actually didn't find her that annoying, but the woman is obviously Bad News. Trouble follows her around like the worst cold in the history of mankind. First Alresca tumbles off the stage, then there's his long-running illness, train accidents, boat accidents, poisonings, etc. Danger, danger Will Robinson.

I also thought Rosa falling in love with Carl was a little too convenient–I mean, I get why Carl, an opera fanboi, would fall for a beautiful opera singer with the voice of an angel, but what's the appeal for her? She's used to hanging out with international men of mystery, which Carl is definitely not. Their relationship was the most obvious deus ex machina in the book.

Aside from that, though, I was really enjoying The Ghost until the last couple of chapters, when the eponymous ghost finally came to the forefront of the story instead of just lurking in the background menacingly. I wanted–and expected–something super creepy and scary. I didn't get it. The ghost, its so-called powers, and the manner in which it was got rid of were really lame and predictable. The conversation at the very end between Carl and Rosa was just odd.

That being said, for the most part I did like The Ghost. I'm glad I read it, even though I'll probably never reread it. Definitely a book for people who enjoy pulpy, vaguely gothic, old-timey novels with a bit of romance.

Download The Ghost, A Modern Fantasy by Arnold Bennett at Project Gutenberg|Librivox