It turns out that the classics can go out of style. Or at least, some of the best books ever written languish on the shelves of the Lennoxville Library, as patrons focus on the cool new stuff. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
But the library has nonetheless created a new display of some of the century’s most honoured works — books that haven’t been checked out for years and years. They don’t deserve to be forgotten.
Start with the 1911 page-turner, The Phantom Of The Opera, by the French journalist Gaston Leroux. Multiple film and stage versions of this horror masterpiece have eclipsed the original.
Leroux was famous in his time for his daring exploits and for exposing corruption. He went on to write some 60 books, but The Phantom Of The Opera never found a wide readership, despite its popularity in other media (it was finally reprinted in 1985).
It is of course set in the cavernous Paris Opera House, which really does feature a vast lake beneath its stage. It is in this land of endless darkness that the ghost, Erik, lives his life, sneaking up to haunt the walkways of the opera house and to listen to the divas sing. Erik hides in the earth because he is so ugly his own mother could not stand to look at him.
He still craves human connection. And he eventually falls in love with Christine Daaé.
When Christine finally discovers that Erik is mortal, she pities his horrible loneliness. Then she discovers Erik is also an unrepentant killer and that he’s determined to make her his wife.
Erik’s rival is a handsome viscount who is just as determined to make Christine his own. The charming but ditzy Raoul is helped by the mysterious Persian, a man who knows much about the Phantom for reasons we cannot fathom. The Phantom Of The Opera is a fun and fast read.
The Caine Mutiny was written in 1951 by Herman Wouk, presenting a portrait of a well-intentioned and monied Princeton grad who joins the US Navy to help win World War II. But Willie Keith is also naive and flawed, as are the officers and sailors around him.
Wouk takes us through the discipline and fear of basic training, the favouritism that can keep a recruit safe in war, and the desperate deprivation of shipboard life.
There is a mutiny, of course, a doom that Wouk carefully presages through his characters, all of whom believe they are doing the right thing. Even the ship’s Captain Queeg, who just becomes nuttier and nuttier….
Here are essential questions about duty, authority and independence.
Rather hilariously, The Caine Mutiny features a lengthy note informing conspiracy theorists of the time that the entire story is fiction, amid an insistence that the miserable captain is a made-up character.
Lastly, the multiple award-winning author Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (1997) touches on the homegrown terrorism of 1960s America, and how it impacted one family.
Seymour Levov wanted nothing more than a comfortable life and a family to love. Then his teenaged daughter, seeking to bring home an understanding of the violence in Vietnam, bombs a local building and kills the region’s do-gooder doctor. (Roth is a fascinating writer, although his female characters come off as creepy caricatures.)
Levov’s pain and consternation is presented through the lens of an author, Skip Zuckerman, who finds that he has wildly misjudged his old friend. A man dismissed as a nice enough dunce is in fact a tragic figure, and Zuckerman concludes that it is only through fiction that we can attempt to truly understand another human being — and yet the attempt will never work, will never capture someone else’s inner truth.
Nothing can ever truly capture another’s truth. Read this falsehood, regardless.
– Eleanor Brown, April 29, 2011