books, fiction

Book Review: The Spy: a novel

The Spy: a novel
(Paulo Coelho, 2016, London, Hutchinson)

This short novel is based on the true events of the life of Mata Hari, a woman who was falsely accused and executed for espionage during the First World War. Recruited by both French and German intelligence, Mata Hari took money from both sides to try and recover her career as the world descended into chaos and war.

Famed for her beauty, her captivating striptease performances in Belle Époque Paris and a string of affairs with high-profile men across Europe, Mata Hari was a Dutch woman whose overall depressing experiences in Dutch-controlled Java led her to reinvent herself as an exotic dancer. Margaretha Zelle’s miserable marriage to an army officer and the death of her young son, confounded by the suicide of a fellow army wife, force her to re-evaluate her life, and at the first chance of escape she flees to Paris to begin a career as an independent dancer.

This book brings Mata Hari to life through two letters: her own final words to her lawyer, to be conveyed to her daughter; and from her lawyer, who stood by her despite foreign agencies’ determination to convict and execute her. On the day of her execution, this indomitable woman faced the firing squad, refusing a blindfold, looking them right in the eye as they killed someone guilty only of standing on her own two feet.

I enjoyed this book a lot, especially as I only discovered the story of Mata Hari very recently on an episode of Trashy Divorces (season 8, episode 1) and I immediately checked the library for any books we have about her. We only have two fiction books, The Spy, and The Red Dancer by Richard Skinner which I’ve yet to read, but I’d love to read a biography too.

I felt quite satisfied with The Spy. It’s well written and the author provides a good list of resources about Mata Hari for those of us who want to dig deeper into her mysteries.

Mata Hari’s legacy is still one of myth, legend and entwined fantasies and cruel truths, but all in all, she was an innocent, independent woman caught up in the stupid games that men play. And it cost her her life.

weechewie also recommends: the Trashy Divorces podcast.

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