Mata Hari. Possibly the most famous female spy of her time. Possibly one of the best mysteries to solve.
A woman. A mother. An artist. A lover.
Who was this woman?
If anyone asked me, I would always mention Paulo Coelho as one of my favorite writers. His gifts lie in his writing, inspiring readers, and changing lives. There is nothing less than admirable in what he can do, and he did not fail me in the Spy when it comes down to that.
Mata Hari was born Dutch, as Margaretha Zelle. At the age of 18, she ended up marrying an officer who was twenty years her senior, and lived in Indonesia.
There, she felt imprisoned in her beautiful house and her inability to speak the language. Her husband abused her and had his own love affairs.
Longing for freedom, Margaretha set out to move to Paris and claimed the name Mata Hari. She became a dancer and an entertainer for the rich and powerful.
As a lover to many upperclassmen, Mata Hari had her accesses to wealth and power, while at the same time maintaining her freedom and fame.
She then started struggling as her career slowed down and she had to figure out ways to not lose what she had. Unknowingly, she walked herself right into the world of espionage and got caught tangled as a double agent.
The story started out with Mata Hari’s fateful death sentence and ended up there. It took us on a journey of how did this remarkable woman end up there- and the revelation of her past.
I could spill plenty of things I wished were done differently in this book, but at the same time I realized the difficulties that must have come in putting the whole thing together.
The book was short enough to be read in one sitting, so I was somewhat grateful that I didn’t need breaks for my eyes while reading it.
Coelho had noted in the book, that he tried to compose with what he had found on Mata Hari, to fill in the blanks and link all the pieces together. However, the attempt was a little too obvious for someone who’d read his books, and a lot of the pieces didn’t feel well connected at times.
There was also no attachment for the main protagonist. I did not care much about Mata Hari, whose claims to beauty and fame bothered me just as much as her life choices. Sure, she did have her moments of unexpected wisdom, where she dropped philosophical notes on people randomly and surprised herself with the wisdom she didn’t know she had.
But they fell short, and uncalled for. Her words were beautiful, but her whole life was a giant mess. We could argue and say that there was beauty in chaos, but Mata Hari’s pride and victim play did not work well with any kind of beauty.
Despite her complimenting herself, I did not buy a single thing from that woman. And if the end goal of this narrative was to irk the readers, then it was well executed.
There were some beautiful moments in this book in which we could learn important lessons about understanding ourselves and having a free mind; but those lessons didn’t feel connected to the story that was running.
When I finally reached the closing part of the book, I got to appreciate it as a whole. But it did not happen before the last twenty pages of the book. It was the moment that Mata Hari’s flaws and mistakes were exposed; that it wasn’t other people to blame but herself, that it wasn’t misfortune but her own choices. That if only had she seen things differently, perhaps she could have ended up in a different place.
There was a sense of urgency that came with the plot as well. We felt the need to rush up and finish the book- something that I had confirmed with my friends who had read it. Most think that compared to Coelho’s other works, the Spy would be the one they could’ve skipped.
Yet I think, that lessons aren’t only taught by people who have done things right, but also by those who have screwed up and messed things up.
Did I learn important lessons from this book? For sure I did.
The Spy is a 7/10 from me. I would tell you go for it if you asked me, but I would recommend you other Coelho’s books if you asked me for recommendation.