Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"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).

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel Signed, Mata Hari, and reported the following:
Page 69 is an erotic name for a blog. The land of erotica is the land I walked in while I wrote Signed, Mata Hari. P. 69 of the text, however, is not so erotic. Not unless you consider Mata Hari in prison and a nun who used to be a cleaning lady having a conversation in Mata Hari’s cell erotic. Although it’s not a steamy scene, p. 69 of the text does reveal one significant aspect of Mata Hari’s nature, other than her seductiveness, that is constant throughout the book. She believes that she once cheated death as a child and therefore she still believes that she is immune to death now, even though there is every indication that her trial for espionage will result in the death sentence. Sister Leonide, the nun, describes for Mata Hari how when she was a cleaning lady she had a window into people’s domesticity, the state of their rooms told her what the person was feeling, what his fears and hopes and dreams were. Mata Hari asks what Sister Leonide can “read” from the condition of her cell and Sister Leonide answers, in effect, that she can tell Mata Hari is not at peace with herself. Mata Hari is quite used to not being at peace with herself and to learn that Sister Leonide has discovered it only makes her summon her strength and repeat to Sister Leonide that she believes she is invincible. Prior to her imprisonment Mata Hari didn’t find peace either. She found turmoil in her loveless marriage. She found heartbreak in motherhood. And it wasn’t until her marriage dissolved that she was able to express herself and become a world famous provocative dancer, but her success ultimately and inadvertently led to her involvement in espionage. It was this constant tension at play in Mata Hari’s life, this arduous balancing act of wifely duties, motherhood, her never before seen erotic artistic expression and her unflagging belief that she could cheat death which made me want to write a novel about her.

P69 of Signed, Mata Hari:

table where a glass had been picked up and been set down again so many times that she knew the drinker must have been frantic with worry or overcome by anger. She noticed where the pile of the carpet had been pressed down in a spot by the window, where the person’s feet had stood for hours at a time, looking outside, waiting for someone to come or to leave or for something to happen.

It was cleaning rooms that made her realize she wanted to help people. She knew the only way she could help people was if she had something to give them. She didn’t have anything, at the time. So she went and married God. After she had God, she knew she now had something to give. It was very easy, she said. Cleaning rooms was harder, she said.

Mata Hari asked Sister Leonide what she noticed about her cell. Did it cry out that she was a traitorous spy?

I can tell by the way your pillow is pressed down all over when you wake in the morning that you have had head-tossing dreams, because in your sleep you thought turning over would make the bad dreams end, and let a good dream in, Sister Leonide said.

Mata Hari knelt down in front of her, Sister Leonide’s silver cross was cold at her cheek. She looked into the blackness of her habit.

I have walked across the sea, she whispered.

I know you are brave, she said, because you do not finish the food on your plate and you think you will go on living and that you do not need the food because you think you will be freed someday and there will be better food to eat. Then she stroked her head. You should finish your food, she whispered.

I have walked across the sea, Mata Hari told her, and she did not finish her food. The velvet horn tangled in my feet wet blad-…
Read an excerpt from Signed, Mata Hari and learn more about the novel and its author at Yannick Murphy's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue