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The Red Dancer by Richard Skinner

Posted to What Are You Reading?




From Kirkus Reviews:

British journalist/reviewer Skinner's first novel is a teasingly inconclusive portrait of the celebrated dancer and alleged spy Mata Hari by those who ought to have known her best. Margaretha Geertruide Zelle met Captain Rudolph MacLeod, according to Skinner, as a result of a joke one of his friends played on him advertising in his name for a wife to travel with him back to his East Indies posting. When MacLeod decided he could see the serious side of the joke, Gerda Zelle married him, followed him to Indonesia, and bore him two children. Later, his sudden abandonment of his wife left her stranded penniless, and she made her way to Paris, where she soon found work as an artist's model, then, in the crucial turn of fortune that launched her career, as a dancer in the Musee Guimet. The prodigious success that followed Gerda's reinvention as the exotic Eastern flower Mata Hari made her famous throughout Europe-and ripe for recruitment by the Berlin police as a the most famous seductress of WWI. Instead of demystifying his storied heroine, Skinner deepens the riddles surrounding her by unfolding her story from the viewpoints of her husband, the impresario ...mile Guimet, the friend of Picasso's who painted her portrait, her maid, a Russian officer who falls in love with her, a prison doctor, and a member of the firing squad that executed her in 1917. As if their disagreements weren't kaleidoscopic enough, he intersperses the narrative with factual interchapters on gamelans, dowsing, lithography, Zeppelins, absinthe, and the Orient Express. The result is not so much a cubist portrait of Mata Hari as of the world she grew up in, passed through as a celebrity, and left behind as a convictedtraitor, all without managing to leave a single overriding impression. Despite its determined lack of momentum: a mosaic as impressively enigmatic as its notorious subject.