2020 Reviews · historical fiction

Book Review: The Spy by Paulo Coelho

Title: The Spythe spy small

Author: Paulo Coelho

Published: November 22nd 2016

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 208

Genres: Fiction, Historical

RRP: $19.99

Rating: 3 stars

The Spy tells the unforgettable story of a woman who dared to break the conventions of her time, and paid the price.

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, as a confidante and courtesan she 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. In 1917 she was arrested in her hotel room on the Champs–Élysées and accused of espionage.

Told through Mata Hari’s final letter, The Spy is the unforgettable story of a woman who dared to break the conventions of her time, and paid the price.


We travel back in time to the Great War, as The Spy by Paulo Coelho uncovers the tragic story of cultural icon Mata Hari. The tale of a poor Dutch woman who reinvented herself in Paris as an exotic entertainer, The Spy provides a brief portrait of this colourful figure’s life. With ambition, glamour, love, secrecy and ill choices ruling this woman’s life, readers will be taken aback by the final fate of this famous figure.

Dutch national Mata Hari came to Paris with no assets, but she had big dreams. Before long this penniless woman transformed herself into a much sought after dancer. Mata Hari was an in demand figure of her time, charming the most powerful movers and shakers in society. Mata Hari had the capacity to both dazzle and shock, going against the morals of the time. However, as Europe was engulfed in the war, Mata Hari’s activities brought about an increased level of speculation and misunderstanding. In an act that shocked many, Mata Hari was arrested before the end of the Great War, charged with acts of treason for spying. What resulted from this charge was devastating, which is revealed through a heartfelt final letter from the dancer to her lawyer.

The Spy by Paulo Coelho was published in 2016 by Penguin Books, after being translated from Portuguese into English. The Spy represents the fourth book I have read by this inspiring author. I was keen to see how Coelho would approach the life of this trailblazer. Knowledge wise, I had a very basic sketch of Mata Hari in my mind and I wasn’t aware that entertainer met such a tragic end. I am thankful to Paulo Coelho for reviving this woman’s incredible life on the pages of his slim length novel.

With the opening ‘based on real events’ preceding the first chapter of The Spy, I knew I was in for a powerful historical recount. With real photographs of Mata Hari marking out different parts of this book, these extra touches definitely worked to pique my interest in Coelho’s novel. The Spy is told in less than two hundred pages. Over three parts, with an Epilogue, along with a combined Authors’ Note and Acknowledgments section, The Spy merges fact with a little creative license. Coelho had to play around with his featured dialogue, scenes and events in relation to Mata Hari’s life.  Some aspects of Mata Hari’s life story have been omitted by the author, while other areas are expanded upon. Coelho cites the use of articles, files, reports and archival evidence in forming the research side of this novel. I did find Coelho‘s approach to Mata Hari’s life both shocking and fascinating. However, this book seemed to be just a taster of sorts, briefly introducing the audience to life and times of this notorious figure. I felt some aspects could have been further developed and I definitely wanted more information about Mata Hari.

I appreciated how Mata Hari’s compelling life story was unveiled through the process of this legend penning a letter to her lawyer, upon her arrest for espionage activities. The correspondence does strike at the heart. I was quite outraged that this happened to a woman with little substance or backing evidence. It appears the case against Mata Hari was bungled, corrupt and discriminatory.

There is no doubt that Mata Hari asserted her independence at a time when this behaviour was frowned upon, but this ultimately led to her downfall. The Spy suggests that Mata Hari was involved in some questionable, as well as ground breaking activities during a time of overwhelming uncertainty. Mata Hari had to pay heavily for her involvement in these acts, which was incredibly heartbreaking. Coelho’s insight into this personality’s life seems to skim the surface only, but it may implore historical fiction fans to reach out and discover more about the notorious Mata Hari via alternative sources.

The Spy by Mata Hari was published on November 22nd 2016 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Spy, Paulo Coelho, visit here.

*Book #5 of the 2020 International Male Author Challenge.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Spy by Paulo Coelho

  1. Great review! If I can find Veronica Decides to Die or By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept I think I’ll use Paulo Coelho for the international male author challenge as well. Love those two books. I’m one happy pappy to see you reading Paulo Coelho as I think he’s one awesome writer! I almost asked you a couple of days ago if you had read/reviewed the international author challenge book because I thought I might have missed it, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I hope you managed to find your two Paulo books. I hope to one day catch up on some more, he has a unique writing style. I look forward to your review if you use him for the international male challenge. The Spy was my only Coelho book on my shelves, but maybe I will come across them when I do some op shopping, I noticed today some reopened. I just need the time! Not to fear with this month’s challenge, I definitely didn’t forget. I had this one read last Sunday evening but unfortunately with an extra teaching workload I just didn’t have the time or clear head to sit down and pen a decent review! I wrote this one Friday night/Saturday morning. It felt rushed but I guess its the best I can do! All the reviews I’ve posted this past week have been school holiday/ isolation time reads, thank goodness I had some stored up ready to go! Looking forward to your pick for next month, it’s so close!


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