Friday, January 6, 2017

Mata Hari's Last Dance - Michelle Moran

Summary: From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy. (Summary and image from

Review:  Michelle Moran has become my go-to author for historical fiction.  I have loved most everything I've read of hers.  I love the depth and life she breathes into characters we all know, even if vaguely.  What's more, I really appreciate that her books are clean.

This is not the case with this book. The first section, detailing Mata Hari's rise to fame and fortune, are completely inappropriate and made me uncomfortable. I still regret reading those first few chapters.

In hindsight, I should have known better. This is a woman known for her varied and prolific love life, a woman accused of using her feminine wiles to extract state secrets to sell to the enemy.  You can't develop such a woman without showing what she's willing to do.  Can I claim sleep deprivation for the decision not to skip forward?  

Once I got into the actual story, I could see Moran starting to emerge.  She approaches this story differently than her others, filling in Mata Hari's backstory (the real one, not the fable) in well-placed flashbacks as told her attorney and favorite reporter.  However, this style leaves much to be desired, as only the smallest fragments are included and hardly any depth is able to be achieved.  I wanted to know more of why she chose the life she did. I hoped for a more intense investigation into her purported spy life, as well as a better analysis on why she was accused, sentenced, and executed for her crimes.  Instead, the climax of her life was rushed through so quickly it felt sloppy.

I don't feel like I know anything about who Mata Hari really was, and I left the book feeling dissatisfied. 

Rating: Two stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Sex, sexual situations, affairs ... nope.

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