Signed, Mata Hari Review
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One of the most mysterious—and notorious—women in history finally gets a chance to tell her side of the story in Yannick Murphy’s mesmerizing novel, Signed, Mata Hari.

As it zigzags back and forth through time, Signed, Mata Hari brings the accused spy back to life—and it gives her story a whole new perspective. It begins in the Netherlands, with a girl called Margaretha. As a young girl, Margaretha skipped school one day to walk across the sea at low tide. She’d been warned that the tide would come in and wash her away if she ever tried it, but she survived the adventure—and it made her confident that she could survive anything.

As a young woman, after a lascivious boss and a jealous wife cost Margaretha her first job, she decides that her only option is to get married. So she finds a willing husband in a military man named MacLeod—and she moves with him to Java. There, while raising two young children, Margaretha trades in her heavy Dutch dresses for the bright-colored native attire. She learns the language, and she changes her name to Mata Hari. But the more she changes, the more angry and distant MacLeod becomes.

Years later, as Mata Hari sits in her cell in a French prison, accused of spying for Germany, she looks back on her life—and on the events and the decisions that led her to that cell.

Signed, Mata Hari isn’t a book that you just read; it’s a book that you feel. The writing is so exquisite that it will instantly have you in its spell. And the imagery is so vivid that you can practically feel the warmth of the Javanese breezes as you read.

The story isn’t told in the conventional way. It travels back and forth through time. It’s sometimes told in first person (when Mata Hari tells the story of her past), sometimes in a conversational second person, and sometimes in third person (when it tells of her time in prison). While it does feel rather arbitrary at first—and even a little bit distracting—you’ll soon find yourself too caught up in the fascinating woman and her spellbinding story to care.

Murphy creates a strong character in the no-longer-mysterious Mata Hari. Though the story does have some steamy moments, it doesn’t focus as much on the shock and sensationalism of Mata Hari’s life as a well-known dancer and courtesan as it does on the woman herself—and who she really was (or at least who she really was in the author’s imagination). While she doesn’t always make the right choices, you can understand why she does what she does—whether out of love or necessity or simply out of naďveté. It tells her story from a completely different angle—and it shows her not as a treacherous, money-hungry exotic dancer but as a desperate woman and a loving mother.

This profoundly elegant novel is one that you won’t want to miss—and it’s also one that you won’t soon forget.

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