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The Spy by Paulo Coelho ― Book Review

Exploring the life of a 20th-century exotic dancer and courtesan in Paulo Coelho’s The Spy was exactly the kind of distraction I was hoping for. The story comes to life in the form of letters that Mata Hari wrote her lawyer towards the closing of her trial where she is found guilty for being a double agent and spying for both France and Germany. 

The lack of chronological order where you find yourself with a Mata Hari in prison at one point and a school going girl at another is not something I’ve found in Coelho’s prose before. His books such as The Alchemist and Veronika Decides to Die are among my favourites. and they follow a strict timeline and in a way that gradual storytelling is what you think of when you come across a Paulo Coelho book. 

The book starts with an execution and it reminded me so much of the Anne Boleyn’s execution portrayed by Natalie Dormer. The first point of interest for the readers is that we know Mata Hari dies but throughout the book, she discusses hopefully with her lawyer the possibility of her pardon. 

In the letters, she pens down her entire life and focuses on the men that exploited her at different stages of her life. She recounts the memories of being raped by her school principal, the abusive husband, the death of her infant son and many other traumatic experiences. She recounts her encounters with men who shaped her ‘mechanical’ approach to sex. 

 “I am a woman who was born at the wrong time and nothing can be done to fix this. I don’t know if the future will remember me, but if it does, may it never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.”

The letters speak of all that Mata Hari is supposedly guilty of besides the Spying which she is convicted of. This is yet another reminder of the accusations against Anne Boleyn. As she recounts the spying was never intentional and all she attempted was winning favours by providing distractions to powerful men that she came across in her profession. 

The book keeps you hooked with the details that come together to portray the story of Mata Hari at seemingly the end of her life. The lawyer Eduoard Clunet writes Mata Hari that her pardon has been denied by the president because of the significant evidence submitted by the French incriminating her. 

For someone who knew very little of Mata Hari, reading Paulo Coelho’s retelling of her life story was quite entertaining. His philosophical retrospect is what makes the story interesting. Is it his best work? Not really because our expectations have been set pretty high since Adultery.

It was a 3/5 for me.

Do I recommend reading The Spy? Only if you are a Paulo Coelho fan and already know of his work. Reading this before any other books by him, I do not recommend. 

Check out more of my book recommendations here.

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