Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pg. 69: Yannick Murphy's "Signed, Mata Hari"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Yannick Murphy's Signed, Mata Hari.

About the book, from the publisher:

In the cold October of 1917 Margaretha Zelle, better known as Mata Hari, sits in a prison cell in Paris awaiting trial on charges of espionage. The penalty is death by firing squad. As she waits, burdened by a secret guilt, Mata Hari tells stories, Scheherazade-like, to buy back her life from her interrogators.

From a bleak childhood in the Netherlands, through a loveless marriage to a Dutch naval officer, Margaretha is transported to the forbidden sensual pleasures of Indonesia. In the chill of her prison cell she spins tales of rosewater baths, native lovers, and Javanese jungles, evoking the magical world that sustained her even as her family crumbled. And then, in flight from her husband, Margaretha reinvents herself: she becomes an artist's model, circus rider, and finally the temple dancer Mata Hari, dressed in veils, admired by Diaghilev, performing for the crowned heads of Europe. Through all her transformations, her life's fatal question — was she a traitor, and if so, why? — burns ever brighter.

Among the early praise for the novel:
"[An] alluring novel, ... hypnotic [and as] softly poetic as it is insistent, [Signed, Mata Hari] it entices the reader from the first lines to give Mata Hari what she always craved: not the secrets that are the currency of a spy, but the rapt attention that is oxygen to a performer."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Does the literary world need another fictional tribute to Mata Hari? If it is penned by the inimitable Murphy (Here They Come, 2006), the answer is yes. Weaving back and forth in time between Mata Hari's prison cell in Paris and her prior life in its many manifestations, the seductive narrative spins an irresistible tale of a woman whose legendary exploits are still a matter of historical debate. Was she or was she not a victim of time and circumstance? Did she really deserve to be executed as a spy? In the end, it doesn't really matter, but what does matter is that Murphy has fashioned a mesmerizing novel that creatively reimagines the life of one of the most notorious, and perhaps overvilified, women of all time."

"[T]he novel is as fascinating as Mata Hari herself and occasionally brilliant in the way it re-creates her life."
--Library Journal
Read an excerpt from Signed, Mata Hari.

Yannick Murphy is the author of the novels Here They Come and The Sea of Trees. Her story collections include Stories in Another Language and In a Bear's Eye (forthcoming in February). Her children's books include Ahwoooooooo! and Baby Polar (forthcoming in 2008/2009). She is the recipient of various awards including a Whiting Writer's Award, a National Endowment for the Arts award, a Chesterfield Screenwriting award and her story In a Bear's Eye was recently published in the 2007 O'Henry Prize Stories.

Visit Yannick Murphy's website.

The Page 69 Test: Signed, Mata Hari.

--Marshal Zeringue