Book review: The Spy, by Paulo Coelho

Memories are full of caprice, where images of things we’ve experienced are still capable of suffocating us through one small detail or insignificant sound.

 

When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless. Within months she was the most celebrated woman in the city.

As a dancer, she shocked and delighted audiences; as a courtesan, she bewitched the era’s richest and most powerful men.

But as paranoia consumed a country at war, Mata Hari’s lifestyle brought her under suspicion. In 1917, she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs-Élysées, and accused of espionage. Taken from Goodreads.

The Good

I really did enjoy the cut-to-the-chase kind of writing of the story and how the book opens up with the execution of Mata Hari. It made it very dramatic and made the story even more compelling.

 

The bad

Coelho made Mata Hari seems frivolous; if anything he made Mata Hari seems like a simple minded person whose sole purpose in life was in search of something interesting, whatever interesting was for her. I haven’t read a lot of books about Mata Hari, but from what I can gather most people either pictured her as a manipulative seductress (which is very sexist, if you ask me), or an evil woman set out to ruin the world for her own pleasure, or as a dumb woman merely a pawn in a men’s game. And maybe, there is a truth behind it all, no one can say for sure, but I was hoping Coelho would have pictured Mata Hari in a different lighting. But, it was also acceptable, because it made the character more believable.

The Ugly

Sadly the story was too short, even for someone who actually enjoys a story that doesn’t waste time. I was kind of hoping there would be more that Mata Hari can shed light for me about her juggling between the Germans and the French, and what eventually brought her downfall. It was understood very well that the story was merely Hari’s letter to her daughter, so it would be incredibly weird for her to be writing a letter to her daughter relaying her activities, but still it small glimpse would have sufficed. I almost felt like Coelho wrote this book merely out of boredom, it didn’t feel like he intend to write something.

Overall?

It’s fascinating because as I finished the book, I was very intrigue to discuss more about the persona of Mata Hari herself. Was she merely a victim of life because she was a woman (and a very liberating one for her time), or because she was in pursuit of something that is beyond her capabilities. It was interesting to see Coelho wrote the beggar character who remind Mata Hari on her last day in The Hague about Mata Hari’s search for adventure when she was already in paradise, and was then followed by Mata Hari’s justification of her decision to leave the Netherlands for France because to her the Netherlands could not possibly be paradise for the was nothing interesting happening there, not like in France. It was intriguing because, could it be that in the name of adventure, Mata Hari had in a way sold her last chance of freedom?

Quite an interesting way to end Mata Hari’s narration in the book, to my opinion.

I’m actually unsure, because though this book ended with several interesting topics to discuss, I wouldn’t necessarily think this would make an interesting book to recommend, but it would make a good book club choice, probably.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️☆☆

Title: The Spy

Author: Paulo Coelho

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Goodreads link


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