Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Spy by Paulo Coelho: Crossing Wisdom and Wikipedia

When Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist was published more than a decade back, I had really enjoyed it. Not because it was great literature, but for the simple wisdom that it dissipated and for the dazzling narrative. Later I tried reading his subsequent novels like Veronica Decides to Die and Adultery. But I wasn't able to move past 50 pages every time. When I chose to read his latest novel, The Spy, I decided to read on and finish it no matter. Surprisingly, it took just two hours to read.

The Spy is a story about Mata Hari, the famed femme fatale, the queen of espionage, as legends claim. I had heard about her intriguing story of seducing army men, trading top secrets and daring double crosses. The biggest take away from this book was the knowledge that this was all an eye-wash and in fact Mata Hari was a victim of war games between nations. She had taken jobs of smuggling war secrets for Germans and for French with money and favors as remuneration, but it seems the only secrets she diverged were gossips. When the French arrested and executed her, as her prosecutor later divulged, there was not enough evidence even fit to punish a cat against her.

There was enough scope in her life to write in hundred different angles and come up with a great novel. But Coelho chose to squander the opportunity and write a quick, shallow book that never goes in depth into her psyche or persona. I felt that for writing this book, he selected hundreds of motivational quotes that we regularly share on social media and joined them together using a plot copied from the Wikipedia page  of Mata Hari. I can tell that because after reading the book I visited the Wikipedia page and I could see passages lifted verbatim!

The Alchemist was good because the motivational message gelled with the plot being told, but in case of The Spy, the plot suffers due to the author's fetish for disbursing street wisdom in between every sentence. I felt he did a disservice to Mata Hari, who I feel is not an emotional wretch as the novel depicts. The dialogues too were too much mushy and generative for my liking. But like hundreds of motivational images shared daily on the Facebook wall, some of the wisdom hits the mark and we are able to resonate with it. If you are into that, then you will like this book.

The first half of the novel, I feel strangely find parallels with author's literary endeavours. Mata Hari after living in Indonesia for some time and learning the local dance form, later imitates it titillatingly in her stage shows leading to tremendous praise from top critics and public. After repeating it for years and leading to the emergence of several imitators, all got tired of her and her popularity declined. Paulo Coelho struck gold by writing a novel that infused traditional wisdom from east and west in the form of a fable. With The Spy I think he is tapering off like his protagonist.


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