Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy -- Book Review

It helps to be fluent in a number of languages if you want to become a spy. I spoke Dutch, German, Spanish, French and even Malay. If you have a studious mind, this helps you become a spy. If you do not have a studious mind, this too helps, because who would suspect you, being ignorant of how to break a code, of knowing how to concoct invisible ink from a number of vials? Anything helps if you want to become a spy, because everyone wants to believe you are a spy.”

How many wonderful things can I say about this book before you begin to roll your eyes?

Mata Hari, an exotic dancer and professional courtesan, was accused of being a double agent for the Germans during World War I and executed by t
he French in 1917. Whether or not she actually spied for the French is debated, and the records of her trial remain sealed until 2017.

Signed, Mata Hari shifts subtly between 1st person and 3rd throughout the book, even occasionally flirting with a 2nd person perspective, which creates a dreamy sort of voyeuristic feeling for the reader. The chapters are short, but luxuriously crafted--almost poetical in their cadence. I felt drawn in immediately, as Mata Hari begins her story by recalling when she "walked across the sea," a memory she calls on throughout her life as a source of strength and courage.

"When I walked back, I turned around and looked over my shoulder to watch the sea advancing. Try and catch me, I said out loud, and what answered back was the sky, at first in low rumbles, then louder as thunder rolled closer. But it never did catch me, and I outran the tide and lived."

The story alternates between Mata Hari's memories and the prison cell she occupies. I felt, as I was reading, that perhaps she was telling me only part of the story--that perhaps she was telling herself only part of the story, as she offers glimpses of her life leading up to her imprisonment.

Even not knowing that Mata Hari was an actual historical figure, I enjoyed this read. The last chapter tipped me off to the fact that this is a truth-based fiction, and now, having read a little of the history, I can see how thoroughly the author incorporated her research into the text. Signed, Mata Hari touches on subjects like parenthood, sex, abuse and desperation without the reader even realizing that this beautiful and enjoyable book is saying something deeper about our humanity.

Murphy has written a wonderful, simple, beautiful book.


Amy said...

This does sound really interesting!

Shana said...


Hi from a fellow Missourian.

This sounds like a great book. I enjoyed reading your review!


Eva said...

This sounds really interesting-thanks for the review! :)

Alyce said...

I love truth-based fiction, and this one sounds like it would be very interesting. I've added it to my wish list.

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