Book Review: The Spy by Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho is best known for his world renowned novel The Alchemist. I have unfortunately never read the internationally renowned masterpiece that is The Alchemist. Therefore my first experience with Coelho has been his latest novel The Spy. I first picked up this book because my mom purchased a copy during our recent trip to Victoria, BC. The ferry ride from the Canadian Coast to the American Coast is about an hour and a half. To pass the time I decided to dive into my mothers latest literary acquisition.

The Spy revolves around the infamous Mata Hari, who took Paris by storm at the turn of the century. Mata Hari was born Margaretha Zelle, in the Netherlands. After a painful school experience and a traumatizing marriage, Margaretha ran away to Paris, leaving her husband and daughter behind. Her journey to France helped teach her how much power she had over men, and upon her arrival she changed her name and began using lies to her advantage. Mata Hari quickly rose to the top of the French entertainment industry with her tasteful burlesque shows and her countless influential lovers (though love had nothing to do with it). As she began to age she became more and more desperate to remain renowned. She eventually found herself working as a double agent for the German and the French during World War I. Unfortunately, she showed herself to be a lousy spy by gathering no useful information. She was arrested and executed for espionage even though there was no concrete evidence against her.

Coelho proves to be a master of psychological examination. He has taken true events and reworked them into a novel that closely examines the reasons behind Mata Hari’s unique lifestyle and eventual demise. Trauma’s in her childhood taught her that distance is the same as safety. She decided that nudity and sex are the best ways to gain what she wanted. Even though her main source of income revolves around the most intimate acts of humanity, she manages to remain completely detached form her many partners. In Mata Hari’s eyes men are tools to be used for a greater purpose. She becomes high and mighty in her attempts to be an independent woman in an time that requires women to be obedient and dependent on men. She does everything she can to survive in a time of war.

Her independence eventually works against her when she is arrested. She knows that she is innocent and is convinced that she can stand alone and succeed. She continually repeated that she has powerful friends, though her cold attitude towards them has caused them to turn their backs on her. While other feminists of the time stood against men in a fight for equality, Mata Hari stood next to men and used them in a fight for independence. She used the tools available to her to stand on her own.

This is must read on my list. I have already purchased The Alchemist, to read next.

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