After a troubled start to life, Mata Hari found fame and fortune dancing exotic dances and sleeping with the wealthy. They financed her life, and she believed them to be her friends.
But when the war broke out, Mata found herself in the wrong place, talking to the wrong people and at the wrong time. The final result? She was executed as a spy, despite there being no evidence against her.
While her “friends” abandon her, Mata spends her final days detailing her life to her lawyer, so that one day, her daughter might know the truth about her mother.
Author: Paulo Coelho
Title: The Spy
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone
It’s hard reviewing a book based on reality, and The Spy was no exception. Mata defied the odds at letting society control her, but I couldn’t invest in her story.
The Spy opens with Mata’s execution. The first half of the book is Mata writing to her lawyer, telling the reader her story in this manner. We discover through her letter how she ended up in prison in the first place. The second half is a letter from her lawyer, explaining how everything got so out of control.
For the majority of the time, the novel does not read as a letter. But occasionally it will jump back to the person writing and why they are doing so – throwing the reader from the tale and jarring them while they figure out what is happening.
It was the inconsistency in the writing that meant I struggling reading this book.
When considering how Mata tried to be an independent woman in a time where the world didn’t accept that, she is a remarkable character.
Yet the way she is portrayed here makes her appear shallow and self-obsessed, that everything revolved around her and her talents rather than realising she was just a pawn.
The second half of The Spy reveals how corrupt the system was and how Mata didn’t stand a chance. This helped me empathise with her character, but by then I already considered her to be a naïve woman who didn’t think of the consequences of her actions other than getting money.
The setting and the events of The Spy interested me and I learnt about the time period from a different perspective. Within the opening pages, I felt I had learnt something new, but that feeling of discovery didn’t extend to the entire book.
The Spy isn’t a bad novel, not by any stretch of the imagination. I felt the writing didn’t do justice to what was surely an incredible tale of a woman defying society and taking control of her life, with consequences she had no way of seeing coming.
It’s a quick and easy read if you want something different though, and I’m glad to have read it.