Mata Hari is a name most of us know. She will forever be associated with being a spy during World War 1, but what really happened?
“the only thing concrete I traded was the gossip
from high society salons.
Yes, I turned the gossip into “secrets” because I
wanted money and power”
This novel tells the story of Mata Hari in two very different letters, where fact and fiction are seamlessly combined to tell the tale. The first letter, that takes up most of the book is written by Mata Hari, whilst in the infamous Saint Lazare Prison awaiting execution, to her lawyer Mr Clunet. In it she looks back at her life, from her marriage that took her to the Dutch East Indies and then her arrival in Paris where she became famous for her dancing, and finally to Berlin which was the beginning of her downfall. The second letter is written by Mr Clunet to Mata Hari. In it he defends his defence of her in court, she lost confidence in him as she knew she was innocent and thought common sense would prevail.
Paulo Coehlo is a well known author whose work has been published worldwide and to critical acclaim. So, it goes without saying that it is a beautifully written novel. It grabs the reader’s interest from the start as it opens with Mata Hari’s execution, and continues to keep the reader hooked, throughout. I found it a very erudite and interesting read with its mix of fact and fiction and and the telling of two versions of events. It is interesting that Mr Clunet feels he has to defend himself, not only to Mata Hari but also to future readers of the letter. He points the finger at the prosecution, who were looking for a scapegoat in the horror of the war, and who better than a beautiful, powerful woman who they believed was a spy. In other words her fate was decided before it went to court, and he could have had no influence on the result.
This is a short novel, so is a great introduction to Mata Hari for those who like their history in bite size chunks. Personally, I would have liked more detail, much of her life is just skimmed over and I felt there was room for further investigation and more of her story. It left me wanting more, I felt I only had half a story.
However, it is still a good read and has piqued my interest so much that I will look for other books on Mata Hari.