...the author highlights Mata Hari’s humanity to reveal a flawed woman whose desire for freedom led to her execution ... Coelho’s prose brings Mata Hari to life as a deeply flawed woman who views her sexuality as a means to gain power and favor ... With The Spy, Coelho has created a portrait of an anachronistic woman who was destroyed by her times and became a legend.
I glimpse, in every Coelho exhortation, a hard lacquer of self-regard and New Age snake oil ... Credit Coelho for giving Mata her belated due and for using the ancient but still sturdy narrative device of the eleventh-hour confession ... Unfortunately, the Mata Hari who emerges from these underrealized pages is not fearless but clueless, not emancipated but incoherent — and, finally, no more plausible or interesting for the Coelho aphorisms that keep tumbling off her scented lips ... You’ll find more agency, sensuality and mystery in just one of Greta Garbo’s spider-lashed gazes.
At 184 tiny pages it is roughly as illuminating and informative as a skim through Hari’s Wikipedia page ... the latest of Coelho’s surface-level narratives to be stitched over with “insights” that only sound profound if you’re not really paying attention ... For an historically beguiling enigma, his Hari is painfully devoid of interest ... Ultimately the writing is just lazy, the book’s entire theme an idea that Coelho didn’t bother to flesh out with research or, evidently, passion. His broad strokes may suit a fable like The Alchemist, but for this—a real life, one more complex and consequential than most—it is utterly, almost insultingly, inadequate.