Most people swoon at the very mention of Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian novelist who rose to prominence in the late 1980s with The Alchemist, regarding his every word as a droplet from some source of pristine knowledge and positive energy, leaving me (and most probably a handful of other skeptics) feeling like an utter villain for daring to cast even the palest shadow of doubt and critique upon any of his works. I read The Alchemist for the first time in high-school because a bunch of my amulets-wearing, guitar-in-the-park-playing, on-the-floor-sitting friends were drooling all over it, and then I read it again quite recently, and even though more than a decade ago I pretended to ‘totally get it’ and called it ‘deep’, now I realised that, essentially, my feelings have not changed – it is still a bunch of metaphysical mumbo jumbo, a pop-philosophical self-help book neatly wrapped in fiction. I tried giving Coelho some more chances after the initial debacle, but I never seemed to manage to get over the humdrum spirituality and constant attempts by the writer to give me plenty of unsolicited advice about love and life, and love. Then, a couple of weeks ago a friend came all moon-eyed and shoved a copy of Coelho’s newest, The Spy, into my chest saying that I had to read it because it was ‘great’ and ‘totally different than anything he wrote so far.’
I have a weak spot for female protagonists, for silenced female historical figures, for women in literature in general, so I curled up with a large, very large, cup of coffee and The Spy in the hope of hearing Mata Hari speak for herself, yet she ended up saying thing such as: ‘Although thoughts always remain the same, there is something stronger, and this is called Love,’ and ‘Forgive but do not forget, or you will be hurt again. Forgiving changes the perspectives. Forgetting loses the lesson.’ I could already picture the motivational Facebook posts (which I indeed found afterwards). The book definitely has the potential to be a historical drama, a travelogue, or even a feminist tract, since Mata Hari resists any attempts at being victimised, however, her personality does not develop in the course of the story. Most things that happen to her are results of accidents that she gets herself into by naively pursuing her dream of an artist’s career and wealth. Character development is hugely lacking, particularly since it is a character based upon a historical figure who has been veiled in intrigue and notoriety. Coelho’s Mata Hari serves perfectly as his mouthpiece for his own brand of pop-philosophy. All in all, if you are a fan of Coelho’s work, this is definitely a book for you. You will not feel that it is lacking in esoteric mysticism and spiritual advice dipped in ethereal wisdom (or something of that sort), however, if you are looking for a biography or a spin-off on one, look further, since this is a book that presents Coelho’s wisdom-laden worldview, and nothing more.
© 2017 Erna G.