"Signed, Mata Hari" by Yannick Murphy. Little, Brown and Co., 2007.
In prison, accused of spying, and awaiting execution, Mata Hari tells stories to her French captors, buying time. They are stories from her early life in Holland, her schooling, marriage to a Dutch army officer, their deployment to Java, and the death of their son by poisoning. The family returned to Holland and the marriage fell apart; she tells of her life as a circus rider, artist's model, exotic dancer; of her liaisons with French, German, and Russian military personnel, and her subsequent arrest. But The Big Question is still unanswered: was she a spy?
What struck me most was the way the author seemed to be "channeling" Mata Hari's life, describing it in a way that made it seem like an alternate reality. An early experience in Hari's life was walking across the sand to an island at low tide. There was a real danger of being swept away by the incoming tide, but she returned safely. This experience was a transforming one, making her feel invincible, and it recurs throughout the novel at several of her life's turning points. As a result, she was so distanced from the life of her husband as to become "foreign" both in her lifestyle and in her way of thinking about her life's events.
This book is so new, Sacramento Public doesn't have any copies yet. The author, however, is represented in the collection by other titles.
Addendum 6/8/09: Sacramento Public now has copies.