The Spy - Paulo Coelho

Was the Mata Hari a feminist martyr?

The story and the myth of Mata Hari as the double agent spy will last but whether she will ever be seen as a feminist martyr, as claimed here, is in doubt.

Telling her tale in the form of her final letter before she faced the firing squad in Paris in 1917, it is a mystery why we learn so little new about the most famous exotic dancer and most famous spy in history and so much about the content of her suitcases.

We discover that she met Freud, but cannot remember his first name; she met Picasso but was less than impressed, although she later admits she would like to have been able to change her first thoughts.

There is little of the depth of her life in these pages, which is not to say that nothing happens... it just seems less than consequential.

The retelling of her famous dance of the seven veils is a mini triumph as it shows the power a performer can have over her audience, and especially if that audience contains some of the most notable people of a generation.

It helped create the myth of Mata Hari but, there is little real insight into what made her both an icon of sexuality and a seeming ingénue, both manipulating and being manipulated, and especially so in her trial and execution.

The Spy, Paulo Coelho, Hutchinson, £12.99 ISBN: 978-1-78-633054-3