I think this is definitely a story worth telling. Mata Hari has been given quite a bad rap. Convicted and executed based on lies and circumstantial evidence.
You know what they say, if you repeat something often enough eventually it becomes the truth. The myth of Mata Hari is ten times bigger than the actual boring and yet also sordid truth.
The truth is she became a pawn in a political game during WW1. She was the means to an end to make sure a certain high profile individual could remain relevant and in a position of power. The only positive aspect of this tale of betrayal is that he got his dues soon after her death.
Coelho writes from her perspective and also from that of her lawyer. Their voices make the reader feel as if they are listening to them tell their story in a personal one-on-one setting.
What emerges is the tragedy of a young girl who was abused at an early age and who fled into the arms of an abusive husband. Then in the strict confines of a colonial lifestyle she lives through the murder of her child and subsequently the loss of her surviving child via a custody battle.
It really is no wonder she ends up embarking on a path of self-destructive behaviour. She equates attention and sex with love, because she has never experienced anything else. Reinventing her whole persona was a way of escaping the mundane, the pain and the stark reality of her life.
Coelho readily admits to changing the chronological order of quite a few events to suit the narrative. Some of those events, for instance the birth order of her children, made little sense but hey ho artistic license and all that.
Again, it’s time the great myth of the seductress and manipulative spy was dispelled. Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (Mata Hari) or Griet was a victim of circumstance and of the men who chose to use her as an object and a political tool.
After reading this I feel pity for her and also angered by the way the myth is still alive and well after all these years, but then perhaps Mata Hari would have preferred the mythical image. Margaretha perhaps not so much. She would probably have chosen not to be shot at dawn by a firing squad.