Saturday, December 1, 2007

Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy

This is not a Christmas book. It may be red and it may be a new release in December, but it’s not for most casual gift giving. It is a fictional account of the life of Mata Hari (born Margaretha Zelle), the infamous World War I spy and exotic dancer. It is beautifully told both by Margaretha and a third person narrator. It follows her from losing her parents to moving to Java with her abusive husband, to raising her children and then returning to Europe to become a dancer and professional mistress. The descriptions are vivid and the characters so believable, it all feels true even though I know it can’t all be true. I looked up information about Mata Hari (I won’t give too much away here), but I still felt complete sympathy for her as she awaits her fate in prison.
Any book about Mata Hari would also have to be sexy and this book does that so well. Sex in novels, I think, is absolutely the most difficult thing to pull off. So often the descriptions become overly mechanical or pornographic, trying for too much accuracy or titillation, but the author here really manages to make the few sex scenes telling and interesting and just plain sexy.
So, I recommend this book if you need a little escape from sweet holiday stories, from cloying diamond commercials, from insincere well-wishes, if you’re in the mood for just great literary story-telling, and I suppose if there is someone on your list who needs a little sexy…

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