Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Spy by Paulo Coelho

Book Review

The Spy by Paulo Coelho

The Spy is the latest book by Paulo Coelho and was published by Cornerstone on 22nd November 2016.

When Mata Hari arrived in Paris she was penniless.
Soon she was feted as the most elegant woman in the city.
A dancer who shocked and delighted audiences; a confidant and courtesan who 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. Until, in 1917 she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs Elysees and accused of espionage.
Told through Mata's final letter, The Spy tells the unforgettable story of a woman who dared to break the conventions of her time, and paid the price.

I was really intrigued by this book, both because of the subject and the author. The Spy is based on the life of Mata Hari, the exotic dancer and courtesan who was executed for being a spy in World War One. I've heard about her before but never read any books on her and I was intrigued by the woman who's always remained a mystery.
Also, Paulo Coelho is of course a very famous author, his most popular book being The Alchemist. I read The Alchemist and a few of Coelho's other books in my late teens and I remember feeling some fairly profound, life is beautiful, sort of feelings. I haven't read it for years though and I wonder how I would read The Alchemist now that I have over a decade more cynicism.

I wonder if Coelho has grown more cynical too as The Spy is rather a different book to The Alchemist. Of course, it's based on a real person so it always was going to be different, but Coelho tackles the life of Mata Hari with an almost despairing edge. Maybe because we all know that Mata Hari was executed, and the book starts with her death, he despairs of her trial and her treatment and so does the reader.

Yet, there are still the usual Coelho-esque insights into life that can come out of the blue and make him one of the most quotable authors ever, it also allows a positive attitude to enter into the book occasionally, even in the darkest parts.

"Love is an act of faith and its face should always be covered in mystery. Every moment should be lived with feeling and emotion because if we try to decipher it and understand it, the magic disappears."

The Spy is a very short book and at times, despite these pearls of wisdom, it feels hurried. It's like a quick guide to the life of Mata Hari, but there are definite elements I felt I wanted to know more about and felt Coelho could have elaborated on, like her lover who was blinded by mustard gas and her daughter.

But then I don't think Coelho set out to write a full biography, more to capture the feeling of the woman. It's also a broader reflection on the seeming madness that surrounded trials of 'spies' during World War One. Hari was convicted on laughable evidence and was condemned to die mainly because she had become a scapegoat for the press. It's a very sad and frustrating ending to a life that was lived out loud.

I would have liked to know more about Mata Hari's life but, despite the brevity The Spy was an interesting insight into a mysterious woman, and Coelho does a good job of trying to get an idea of her down on paper, even though she is rather difficult to pin down in words.

My rating: 3 stars

I received a copy of The Spy via NetGalley on a read to review basis, my thanks to Cornerstone and Paulo Coelho.

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