Read The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale by Joseph Conrad Steven Marcus Tatiana M. Holway Online


The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classicsseries, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble ClassicsNew introductions commissioned from today'sThe Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classicsseries, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble ClassicsNew introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholarsBiographies of the authorsChronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural eventsFootnotes and endnotesSelective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the workComments by other famous authorsStudy questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectationsBibliographies for further readingIndices & Glossaries, when appropriateAll editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influencesbiographical, historical, and literaryto enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.Set in early twentieth-century London and inspired by an actual attempt to blow up the Greenwich Observatory, The Secret Agent is a complex exploration of motivation and morality. The title character, Adolf Verloc, is obviously no James Bond. In fact, he and his circle of misfit saboteurs are not spies but terrorists, driven less by political ideals than by their unruly emotions and irrational hatreds. Verloc has settled into an apparent marriage of convenience. Family life gives him a respectable cover, while his wife hopes to get help in handling her halfwit brother, Stevie. Instead Verloc involves Stevie in one of his explosive schemes, an act that leads to violence, murder, and revenge. Darkly comic, the novel is also obliquely autobiographical: Joseph Conrad s parents were involved in the radical politics of their time, and their early deaths left him profoundly distrustful of any sort of political action.Steven Marcus is Professor of English and Comparative Literature and George Delacorte Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, and a specialist in nineteenth-century literature and culture. He is the author of more than 200 publications."...

Title : The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale
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ISBN : 9781593083052
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Number of Pages : 286 Pages
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The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale Reviews

  • Lyn
    2019-03-23 03:25

    I have only run across a few writers who can adeptly and accurately plumb the depths of the human soul. Joseph Conrad is one of those authors and he is on a short list of talented creators who seem to have two fingers on the pulse of primordial man as he still lives and breathes beneath the surface composure of his civilized evolution. For Conrad, the ability to strip off the etiquette, culture, and social mores of western thought is as eventful as watching sun bathers lose their clothing on the beach. The Secret Agent, his 1907 publication, falls into the category of this his most accomplished canon, the exploration of our psychological depths and the unsettling discovery that to get there takes little delving. A reader of Conrad’s cannot help but compare this work with his later book Under Western Eyes, and I cannot help but compare both to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. As in the Russian’s novel, Conrad succeeds in capturing a sympathetic portrait of the monster. We eat with Verloc, despair with him, feel his rages and jealousies, his uncertainties, and we see the simple, fundamental love of his wife through his eyes. This is a story of love, hate, betrayal, insanity, and a peculiar misanthropy that seems a ubiquitous theme to Conrad's work.

  • [P]
    2019-02-28 09:32

    In the aftermath of a tragedy people often look towards artists, towards novelists, musicians and poets also, for comfort, the kind of comfort one finds when someone is able to capture an event, or feelings, that you yourself find incomprehensible or unfathomable or inexpressible. For example, after 9/11 there was a rush to proclaim certain kinds of art as speaking for the time[s], and it was then that Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent received a lot of attention, it being a novel concerned with a plot to blow up a well-known building. Subsequent to the attacks on the Twin Towers, this book has now come to be known as The Great Terrorism Novel, and is seen as a kind of prophetic/prescient work. Yet, there is something about the The Secret Agent, something about the particular brand of terrorism that it deals with, that people often choose to ignore or simply misunderstand; or perhaps, if one was being especially cynical, which I almost always am, one might wonder if a lot of the journalists who put the book forward have actually read it.Adolf [yes, Adolf] Verloc has two jobs. One is to run a seedy shop in London with his wife and her simple-minded brother, and the other is as the secret agent of the title. However, Verloc is no James Bond; he is an observer, and informer; that is, until one day he is told, by the shady Mr. Vladimir, who is some kind of foreign ambassador, that observation is not enough. He must, says Vladimir, prove to be indispensable if he wants to remain on the payroll. This being indispensable involves blowing up Greenwich Observatory, the aim of which is to stir England into decisive, even extreme, action against criminal/revolutionary/terrorist elements or organisations. It is Vladimir’s idea that in order to do this one must get the attention of, to wake up so to speak, the middle classes.‘The imbecile bourgeoisie of this country make themselves the accomplices of the very people whose aim is to drive them out of their houses to starve in ditches. And they have the political power still, if they only had the sense to use it for their preservation. I suppose you agree the middle-classes are stupid?’Mr. Verloc agreed hoarsely.‘They are’‘They have no imagination. They are blinded by an idiotic vanity. What they want just now is a jolly good scare.’This is blistering stuff. The terrorists are not crazy Arabs hellbent on destroying democracy and taking over the world, as some commentators would have you believe was the case with 9/11, this is violence and terrorism used against an ignorant or complaisant people in order to enrage them, in order to manipulate them into doing what you want them to do. So, far from providing balm for the masses, The Secret Agent is actually more likely to fuel conspiracy theories; its take on the political world is, in fact, far closer to the popular conspiracy theory that the World Trade Centre attacks were an inside job, that they were brought down in order to give the US government a reason to wage war in the Middle East.One of the first things you will notice about The Secret Agent is that although the novel is purported to be set in London, there is not a great deal that is recognisably English about it. All of the revolutionaries, for example, have continental-sounding names – Ossipon, Verloc, Michaelis, etc – despite it being the case that they are meant to be British citizens. Furthermore, Conrad’s capital city is a particularly gloomy place; even taking into account that London may have been dirty and so on, there is something almost phantasmagorical, but certainly very odd, about the way the Pole presents it. In Bleak House Dickens writes about the fog and such, but Conrad’s London appears to be permanently in darkness, with a palpable threat of violence or madness always in the air; Indeed, the sense of madness or mental strain that pervades the work is reminiscent of Dostoevsky [although Conrad was, apparently, not a fan].For a novel so obviously, relentlessly, political and satirical it would be easy to see the characters as mere symbols, or representations, or one-dimensional puppets. Yet there is also a strong human aspect to the work. First of all, there is the conflict resulting from the task given to Verloc, by which I mean that of the observer who is forced to be an active participant. It takes a special kind of person to do this sort of thing, to bomb a building; most people are capable of standing by and letting it occur, but it’s a different thing, takes a different kind of personality, altogether to be the one holding the explosive, to detonate it. As one would imagine, if you force someone to act who is more suited to observing the consequences are likely to be disastrous.Secondly, there is the relationship between the simple-minded Stevie and the Verlocs. Stevie does have a representative or symbolic function in the novel: he is innocence and confusion and, one could also say, chaos [at least mentally/emotionally]; he is, in a sense, both the moral conscience of the novel and a human mirror of the emotional state of Mr. Verloc himself [as well as perhaps all revolutionaries]. Yet he also provides the most tender moments in the book, such as his sympathy for the whipped horse and the poor driver of the horse, and all of the tragedy. Stevie is a tragic figure because he is a wholly trusting and loving brother and brother-in-law. Mrs. Verloc sacrifices herself in order to provide a safe and comfortable home for him, while Mr. Verloc ultimately takes advantage of him in an apparently mindless, yet cruel manner.I hope that so far I have gone some way to summing up some of the book’s strengths and points of interest, yet it would be remiss of me not to mention that many readers raise serious objections. Of these objections most are related to Conrad’s style. On this, there is no doubt that The Secret Agent is at times a mess of adverbs and repetition; no character does or says anything in the book that isn’t, in some way, over or unnecessarily described and repeated. For example, Verloc is said to ‘mumble’ or speak ‘huskily’ with such frequency that it is liable to cause mirth or extreme irritation in the reader. Indeed, if you were to be brutally honest, this over-reliance on certain words, and excessive number of adverbs, is the kind of thing you would expect from the most amateur of YA authors, not one of the most renowned novelists of the 20th century.So, does this mean that Conrad was a bad writer? Or that The Secret Agent is a badly written book? That is certainly one way to look at it. One might say that as Conrad was a Pole writing in English it is understandable that his vocabulary would be limited and his sentences idiosyncratic. Yet I don’t quite agree with this. All of his novels are dense and difficult but, unless my memory is faulty, this is the only one written in this particular way. Furthermore, some of the repetition, for example ‘Ossipon, nicknamed Doctor’, occurs on subsequent pages in the text, and, for me, it is absurd to think Conrad wouldn’t have noticed. This suggests that these flaws were perhaps intentional, that it was a style choice. However, one is then, of course, faced with coming up with some way of justifying that style choice.The Secret Agent features intellectually dull men, incompetent revolutionaries with radical ideas or, in Verloc’s case, an incompetent secret agent. As with Stevie, Conrad’s banal yet convoluted style in a way mirrors the mental, intellectual state of these characters. Furthermore, as previously noted, the novel’s atmosphere is that of confusion and anxiety and potential violence. The repetition, the overall strange writing style, to some extent makes the reader feel how the characters themselves feel; it is, whether one likes it or not, disorientating, and that does not strike me as a coincidence. While many argue that The Secret Agent’s style is unsophisticated the same could not be said of the structure. In the early part of the novel each new chapter deals with a different character, often introducing a previously unknown one. Rather than follow Verloc as he carries out his assigned task, the narrative moves around, shifts perspective; and during each of these shifts characters will discuss both past and present events, thereby only gradually revealing what is going on. For example, one finds out during an early chapter featuring Ossipon and the Professor that someone has blown themselves up, and that it is assumed that it is Verloc. But you never see the event itself, and you don’t find out what actually happened until much later. There is, therefore, no linear timeline of events; much like a detective, you have to piece together the timeline yourself, and this is particularly satisfying.However, towards the end of the novel the focus narrows, and in the last 50 or so pages Mrs. Verloc comes to the fore. There is a long passage between her and her husband that is difficult to discuss without spoilers, but it is a truly brilliant piece of writing. Conrad manages to show grief and shock in a way that is more accurate and moving than I thought possible in a novel. For me, it is worth reading The Secret Agent for this long passage alone. Yet, that is not necessary, one need not read Conrad’s work only for this passage, because it gives you so much more: farce, tragedy, murder, satire, mystery, and so on. It may not be The Great Terrorism Novel, it may not comfort the masses the next time a bomb explodes, scattering far and wide the flesh of hundreds or thousands of destroyed bodies, but it is a fucking great book.

  • Luís C.
    2019-03-19 10:30

    London muddy, rain and soot, mist and fog. In a one-eyed street in Soho, Mr. Verloc runs his small business, a very discreet shop for male customers, confidentially selling a heterogeneous set of newspapers with revolutionary tendencies and discreetly sealed shady merchandise, which are conducive to satisfying and flattering instincts of his gentlemen. The worthy trader took charge of his wife's family, wife of erased, family composed of a simple-minded and influential brother-in-law as well as an almost impotent mother-in-law. But under this patchy and patched blanket, Verloc became a double agent in the service of a foreign power as well as an indic of the police, while his back shop was the benchmark of a composite breed of low-level anarchists floor.This political novel, urban, glaucous, occupies a special place in the Conradian work by the frame of its narrative and its purpose. The author's intention was to use irony as the universal mode of expression of the narrator, to treat the conspiracy subject of the instrumentalisation of the political bombing under the parodic prism. As such, it is a great success.

  • Fiona MacDonald
    2019-02-27 10:37

    I can appreciate this novel is pretty wonderful. And as I read more and more I was fascinated, but I did find it hard going at the start. I think the plot is horrific, and it made me want to research the Greenwich Bomb in more detail. I think it was a pretty daring book for Conrad to release at such a time with such detailed observations on spying and terrorism. It's still an incredibly relevant work even now in the current climate.

  • Paquita Maria Sanchez
    2019-03-01 09:31

    My ratings are very moody and just generally not to be trusted. Having gotten that fact out in the open for the umpteenth time, I will say that I thought this was a very good book. Love, no. Like very much, yes. I especially hearted the last-ish part with the wife and the train and ole dude's stop, drop, and roll in mid-air move because ACTION! SUSPENSE! HEARTBREAK! PLOTSY TWIRLS! In fact, most of my favorite scenes involved Winnie V, while some other sections, particularly some of the more beat-you-over-the-head-with-symbolism conversational scenes with BadMeanyPoliticianMens, made it an occasional slog. If I wanted to really be a cranky-puss, I would also point out how some descriptive words (e.g. husky/huskily) were used entirely too many times in rapid succession, which bugs the piss straight outta me for the simple fact that I appreciate a fella who knows how to admit defeat and just pick up a freakin' thesaurus from time to time. Tiny style gripes. Also, I finished a book I more enjoyed reading a couple of days before this, so that definitely influenced things, and you totally, understandably care about that and must be so glad that I told you. All in the gut, baby. No star-science here. Just bloody, stinkin' guts. I'll probably bump it up if it's still rolling around in my noggin' a year from now, which is very possible because I think 2014 just may still feature terrorists, corrupt politicians and law enforcement personnel, plots n' schemes n' conspiracies, crushing deception by/of those you love most, exploitation of any and all human weakness, and assholes.

  • Sketchbook
    2019-02-23 04:28

    Grand opera.Tosca stabs Scarpia. Victorian London, amid a nest of spiesand terrorists. Classic stuff fr a non-stylist who is, nonetheless, a great writer (Conrad's first language was Polish, his 2d French, he wrote in English). A strong influence on Graham Greene, Conrad rips open a marital horror bet a scuzzy anarchist and his simple wife after her teen brud is killed x his bomb.Their marriage was legalized prostitution and, in her outrage, the shattered sister becomes a murderer. "She did not know which way to turn. Murderers had friends, relatives, helpers. She had nothing." But she's free - at last !A modern, psychological vein-cutter without galumphy twists, turns, surprises -- just the truthfulness of character. I spent a week poring over the last 80 pages wherein Conrad digs into the appalling madness of humanity. *Conrad's companion dazzler: "Under Western Eyes" (Russ spies, Geneva, 1911).

  • Jonfaith
    2019-02-28 11:44

    My best friend Joel has a friend Bob who teaches at Rutgers. Nearly a decade ago, before becoming a scholarly expert on Borat, he stated that in terms of literature he wasn't going to bother with anything written later than 1920; what was the point, he'd quip? I admired his pluck. While I'm not sure he still ascribes to such. Well, for a couple of weeks in 2004 I adhered to the goal. There have been many goals with a similar history and such a sad conclusion: sigh. This was my first effort towards that goal and what an amazing novel it is. The Secret Agent is the dark reversal of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. The devices employed are grim and effective. Highly recommended.

  • Cphe
    2019-03-19 11:25

    A first time read of the author and perhaps this might not have been the novel to start with. Found the first half of the novel confusing and convoluted although the story did gain some momentum in the second half and become engrossing. A novel of spies, espionage and terrorism in the late 1800's.One of those novels that you have an inkling early on that won't end well for the characters involved.

  • umberto
    2019-02-25 04:32

    First published in 1907, this spy fiction might be a literary adventure to those unfamiliar with Joseph Conrad's writing style enriched by apt, scholarly words and idioms admirable for his writing as his third language. From its 13 chapters, I found reading its first three fourths confusing due to its plot; however, I kept reading and gradually saw the light around Chapters 9-10 onwards. Then I enjoyed reading Chapter 11 in which I christened by noting as a tragic chapter since all episodes horribly and unimaginably reached the climax.Interestingly, in Chapter 2 alone, Conrad has repeatedly kept using the words 'husky', 'huskily' to reveal how Mr. Verloc responds to his employers (p. 25) at the Embassy as extracted below:- 'I need not say that all my endeavours shall be directed to that end,' Mr. Verloc said, with convinced modulations in his conversational husky tone. ... (p. 15)- 'Eh? What were you pleased to say?' he exclaimed, with husky resentment. ... (p. 16)- Mr. Verloc stated huskily that he did. ... (p. 17)- Mr. Verloc's husky conversational voice was heard speaking of youth, ... (p. 17)- Mr. Verloc tried to exculpate himself huskily. ... (p. 18)- 'With a voice like that,' he said, putting on the husky conversational pedal, ... (p. 21)- 'Don't you try to come over me with your Hyperborean manners,' Mr. Verloc defended himself huskily, ... (p. 22)- 'In that way I have them all under my eye,' Mr. Verloc interrupted, huskily. ...(p. 25)- 'My wife.' Mr. Verloc raised his husky voice slightly. ... (p. 31)- He turned away his heavy eyes, saying huskily: ... (p. 170)The list is not complete, I think there are still a few that remain somewhere near the end. So I could not help thinking if the novelist enjoys word-playing or, with my respect, he possibly runs out of their synonyms which is unthinkable for his admiring readers. That's my humble statement and, I'm sure, we still enjoy reading him with such a unique style.Just a few pages after the beginning of Chapter 9, Mrs. Verloc surprisingly encourages her husband to let Stevie her brother go with him and we can see how he reacts from this excerpt:... In the afternoon of the same day, as Mr. Verloc, coming with a start out of the last of a long series of dozes before the parlour fire, declared his intention of going out for a walk, Winnie said from the shop: 'I wish you would take that boy out with you, Adolf.' For the third time that day Mr. Verloc was surprised. He stared stupidly at his wife. She continued in her steady manner. The boy, whenever he was not doing anything, moped in the house. ...... 'He'll lose sight of me perhaps, and get lost in the street,' he said. Mrs. Verloc shook her head competently. 'He won't. You don't know him. That boy just worships you. But if you should miss him -- ' Mrs. Verloc paused for a moment, but only for a moment. 'You just go on, and have your walk out. Don't worry. He''ll be all right. He's sure to turn up safe here before very long.' This optimism procured for Mr. Verloc his fourth surprise of the day.... (pp. 169-170)I think this part is the turning point due to her encouragement mysteriously conceived and unknown to the readers; however, we can guess something horrible due to happen as if dictated by fate leading to such an inconsolably grief-stricken sister in the 'tragic chapter' as narrated as follows:... Winnie, at the shop door, did not see this fatal attendant upon Mr. Verloc's walks. She watched the two figures down the squalid street, one tall and burly, the other slight and short, with a thin neck, and the peaked shoulders raised slightly under the large semi-transparent ears. The material of their overcoats was the same, their hats were black and round in shape. Inspired by the similarity of wearing apparel, Mrs. Verloc gave rein to her fancy. 'Might be father and son,' she said to herself. ... (p. 170)Moreover, I would like to look at its seeming climax, that is, Mr. Verloc's death from which Conrad has narrated subtly till his readers hardly know or realize when it is done horribly. In cold blood? I'm not sure to give a verdict, that should be left to the authority of the Ministry of Justice or those in charge. We may agree that the prime motive is concerned with Stevie killed by "the premature explosion" (p. 211), whose death has ultimately stunned his sister, Mrs. Verloc, as well as inexplicably shattered her life. Equally grief-stricken by the accident, Mr. Verloc tries his best to console his wife whose robot-like response saddens us, a few excerpts from Chapter 11 cited as follows:Mr. Verloc walked behind the counter of the shop. His intention was not to overwhelm his wife with bitter reproaches. Mr. Verloc felt no bitterness. ... Nothing could be helped now. He said: 'I didn't mean any harm to come to the boy.' ... (p. 210) ... Mr. Verloc felt the need of talking to his wife. 'It's that damned Heat -- eh?' he said. 'He upset you. He's a brute, blurting it out like this to a woman. I made myself ill thinking how to break it to you. I sat for hours in the little parlour of Cheshire Cheese thinking over the best way. You understand I never meant any harm to come to that boy.' ... (p. 211) Mrs. Verloc, turning her head slowly, transferred her stare from the wall to her husband's person. Mr. Verloc, with the tips of his fingers between his lips, was looking on the ground. 'Can't be helped,' he mumbled, letting his hand fall. 'You must pull yourself together. You'll want all your wits about you. It is you who brought the police about our ears. Never mind, I won't say anything more about it,' continued Mr. Verloc, magnanimously. 'You couldn't know.' 'I couldn't,' breathed out Mrs. Verloc. It was as if a corpse had spoken. Mr. Verloc took up the thread of his discourse. ... (p. 225)In fact, there are still more dialogs between the couple but they seem not to reach any mutual friendly agreement, in other words, I suspect there is a few words, sentences or nonverbal communication somewhere denoting the last straw that unimaginably leads to Mrs. Verloc's homicide as evidenced by this extract:... His wife had gone raving mad -- murdering mad. ... They were leisurely enough for Mr. Verloc to elaborate a plan of defence involving a dash behind the table, and the felling of the woman to the ground with a heavy wooden chair. But they were not leisurely enough to allow Mr. Verloc the time to move either hand or foot. The knife was already planted in his breast. ... (p. 239)In brief, to read this novel keeping us in suspense needs our concentration and familiarity. I could not help wondering whose political motive initiates the idea on such ruthless sabotage at the Greenwich Observatory in London. As the secret agent, not the spy, Mr. Verloc has to work against the bomb plot but luck is not on his side.

  • Oziel Bispo
    2019-03-23 08:22

    Londres ,1886 .Mr Verloc é proprietário de uma pequena loja no centro de Londres, que na verdade é apenas uma fachada,pois Mr Verloc é um anarquista ,um agente secreto  e membro de uma célula terrorista e usa sua loja para produzir panfletos bem como realizar reuniões com  seus contatos e amigos anarquistas. A família de Verloc é composta por Winnie sua esposa e o irmão de Winnie  , Steven que tem problemas mentais. Apesar de Verloc fazer parte dessa célula terrorista , desse grupo de anarquistas a relação familiar entre eles era quase perfeita... Verloc era um bom homem, Winnie uma ótima esposa que além de fazer tudo por seu esposo ainda cuidava do irmão com problemas mentais. Mas o que será que aconteceu a essa família, que acabou a destruindo e levando Winnie á loucura? Baseado em fatos reais, uma novela maestra  de Joseph Conrad!Até que ponto um homem se atreve a ir para alcançar seus objetivos ? Pode até mesmo usar um inocente ,ferir um coração até sangrar e enganar sua própria esposa? Quanto mistério e confusão né...como será que isso vai acabar...Descubra nessa novela magistral : O agente Secreto.

  • Ahmed
    2019-02-23 11:16

    الروايات الهادئة المتعمقة بكل التفاصيل الحياتية، الحس الكلاسيكي الممتع، التصوير والتأريخ المجتمعي، مع عمق نفسي ممتع، وتصوير شخصيات فذ، والأهم الحبكة والدراية بتغييرات الظروف ويواكب تطورات الحدث.العميل السري: رواية ممتعة لمحبي الإثارة، ومهمة لمحبي تفاصيل المجتمعات، والشخصيات.رواية لطيفة ممتعة بترجمة متقنة.

  • Amanda
    2019-03-16 11:23

    I thought thatThe Secret Agentwas a genuinely fascinating profile of modern (by which I mean 1905) London society, and I found Conrad's picture of society being driven by personal interest and the lust for political power to be incredibly modern (by which I mean 2008) in its deep pessimism and sceptical view of human nature. Conrad presents us with a wide spectrum of characters, from loyal wives and impoverished cabdrivers to police officers and activist anarchists, each of whom is motivated to play their particular societal role by their own driving self-interest. Politics influences everything and everyone has ulterior motives. The central plot is a conspiracy theorist's dream-- a foreign embassy orders one of it's undercover agents, known in London as Mr. Verloc, to stage an explosion in London in order to give the embassy justification for it's anti-revolutionary efforts abroad. The cold calculation with which this act of terrorism is planned, in order to help the government to maximum effect, is genius, dripping with ironic detachment:"A bomb outrage to have any influence on public opinion now must go beyond the intention of vengeance or terrorism. It must be purely destructive. It must be that, and only that, beyond the faintest suspicion of any other object. You anarchists should make it clear that you are perfectly determined to make a clean sweep of the whole social creation. But how to get that appallingly absurd notion into the heads of the middle classes so that there should be no mistake?...By directing your blows at something outside the ordinary passions of humanity is the answer. Of course, there is art. A bomb in the National Gallery would make some noise. But it would not be serious enough. Art has never been their fetish....There would be some screaming of course, but from whom? Artists-- art critics and such like--....Nobody minds what they say. But there is learning-- science. Any imbecile that has got some income belives in that. He does not know why, but he believes it matters somehow....All the damned professors are radicals at heart. Let them know that their great panjandrum has got to go, too, to make room for the Future of the Proletariat....Their indignation would be above suspicion, no material interests being openly at stake, and it will alarm the selfishness of the class which should be impressed. They believe that in some mysterious way science is at the source of their material prosperity....And the absurd ferocity of such a demonstration will affect them more profoundly than the mangling of a whole street--or theatre-- full of their own kind."This perfect bomb plot goes awry and when we are presented with a picture of how the lives of Mr. Verloc and his family and associates are effected, we can see clearly how everyone is struggling for self-preservation and how each move they make is carefully calculated in order to ensure the greatest advantage for themselves. This negative view of humanity extends to Conrad's physical descriptions of his characters as well. We are treated to lengthy, gleefully ugly descriptions of the hideous gargoyles populating London. The grotesque details grab the imagination and ably caricature the filthy urban cesspool that Conrad presents us with.Try this on for size:"His flat, large ears departed widely from the sides of his skull, which looked frail crush between thumb and forefinger; the dome of the forehead seemed to rest of the rim of the spectacles; the flat cheeks, of a greasy, unhealthy complexion, were merely smudged by the miserable poverty of a thin dark whisker. The lamentable inferiority of the whole physique was made ludicrous by the supremely self-confident bearing of the individual. His speech was curt, and he had a particularly impressive manner of keeping silent."Or this:"When he rose painfully the thrusting forward of a skinny groping hand deformed by gouty swellings suggested the effort of a moribund murderer summoning all of his remaining strength for a last stab."Conrad begins Chapter 3 by having one of his characters make this statement, "...All idealization makes life poorer. To beautify is to take away its character of complexity-- it is to destroy it." and he quite clearly uses this text to present a vastly complex view of London, if the ugliness therein can provide a decent measure.The book is fascinating and intelligent and I think it would resonate with today's readers loudly and clearly, especially in our current political context, where there is no doubt that the actions of the U.S. government are motivated purely by self-interest and a lust for power. Not to mention the fact that it has the structure of a political thriller and the action is compelling and exciting.I feel a little silly saying that I would recommend this book because it is a modern classic, and thousands of people before me have confirmed it's worth with more authority and intelligence, but I do recommend it wholeheartedly. It is a really good read.

  • Tyler Jones
    2019-03-04 04:36

    I think this is one of the finest novels of the 20th Century for the following reasons:1) The language is magnificent. For a reader such as myself, who likes to get lost in tangential thoughts mid-sentence, Conrad offers a warm bath we can soak in. I often just let the sentences flow over me in waves of color and music (I usually read Faulkner this way too), but if I want to stop and extract all the meaning from one of his dense little beauties I just pull the golden ribbon and what appears to be a knot of words opens up nicely. I have tried unraveling some of Faulkner's and McCarthy's sentences this way and found myself baffled. Conrad's style reminds me a lot of the elegance, albeit to a far lesser degree, that Nabokov wrote with. Maybe those who approach English from the outside can see and do things we who grew up with it can't.2) He tells us important stuff about how humans think and act. For Conrad, I believe, what goes on inside a person's head is at least as important as how they act in the world. Perhaps more important, because understanding motive is the key. With out understanding motive all action, even terrorist acts, are random. I believe Conrad is correct when he exposes characters as being at the whim of their own emotional needs; he gets deep in the heads of anarchists, spies, policemen and quiet little housewives and shows that they all pretty much are driven by the need to feel secure, or to be protectors, or have their egos stroked. Many characters believe they are acting in selfless support of a cause (be it anarchy or rule of law) but ultimately all are driven by impulses they are probably unaware of. And so, dear reader, are you and me. Conrad was not the first to make this observation but he presents it in such a way as to make it really strike home. I'm sure there is a lot of other important stuff in the book too, but this was just the main one that I felt.3) I love the internal stuff - which probably is just a personal thing. I love Chapter Six, in which a Chief Inspector of the police is conversing with his superior. Between each line of dialogue Conrad gives us paragraphs of internal thought - in short he makes a mockery of that "show, don't tell" rule that is supposed to apply to good writing. Conrad tells everything, and it works! This should bore me to death, but it actually stimulates my thinking. Later in the novel (Chapter Eleven), this dragging out of the action by all the interior stuff raises an already tense scene to an almost unbearable level of tension. It is incredibly effective, but I fear too many busy modern readers just don't have the patience for it.4) It seems very relevant to today. That's one sign of a great book, isn't it? This isn't some dusty classic that explores issues only related to historical events. It speaks to us, now, in a voice that is urgent and vital.

  • Ivana Books Are Magic
    2019-03-11 05:34

    THE SECRET AGENT AND TERRORISMI wanted to read this novel for a while. When I saw it referenced in a book I was reading, I decided that it was going to be the next novel I was going to read. Really any excuse to read more of Conrad’s works will do it for me, but this time I was particularly drawn by the theme- the exploration of political terrorism. Unless I’m mistaken, this is not a common theme with Conrad. Well, it is not a common theme in literature period. How many really good novels were written about terrorism? There are plenty of books written about terrorism (mostly by journalists and political analyst), but in the literary world it still seems to be somewhat of a taboo. I haven’t done much research or official counts, but when it comes to my personal reading experience- besides Herbert’s The White PlagueWhite Plague and Rushdie’s The Satanic Versess nothing comes to mind. Those are the only two ‘acclaimed’ novels I remember reading that were about terrorism. There are others, I’m sure, but probably not at the top of the best-selling list. Interesting that today when terrorism is so wide spread - it not as a common theme in literature as one might expect. So, it was certainly fascinating seeing that someone explored this subject a while back. This novel was inspired by an actual event- and today when such ‘events’ are plentiful, it is perhaps even more relevant. Having read it, I can say that it does more than just create a plot around a terrorist act. I was happy to find out that The Secret Agent is more than a novel about a terrorist act, it is a novel that isn’t afraid to go into depth and examine the social and the individual dynamics behind it, as well as show what might lead to a person resorting to it.HOW DOES CONRAD HANDLE THE THEME OF TERRORISM?I would say Conrad handled the subject matter very well. By creating a protagonist who becomes a terrorist only to keep his job as a secret agent (that he desperately needs so he would be able to support his family), he added an ironic twist to the narrative. I’m surprised by how much I sympathized with the protagonist of the novel, i.e. the secret agent. Mr. Verloc is by no means a likeable character. Yet, there is something very tragic about his life. Supposedly, Mata Hari was killed not because she spied for the Germans but because she failed to supply her employers with any kind of valuable information so they decided to use her as a scapegoat and let her take the fall, correctly figuring out that nobody will miss an aging dancer turned prostitute. Somehow Mr. Verloc reminded me of her. He is an easy pray for someone like Mr. Vladimir. The blending of domestic and personal tragedies with political schemes and madness was done particularly well. The unwilling terrorist is a figure that invokes disturbing thoughts and worrying implications- how much was this the author’s intent, I can’t say but it makes for a very interesting novel.Secret agents are supposed to fight off terrorists, not become terrorists themselves- or are they? In a time when there is considerable evidence that some western governments (or whoever is behind them) might have something to do with the rise of ISIS, one doesn’t find it hard to believe that governments can and will use terrorism as a means to their own ends, i.e. staying in power at any coast. However, it is not only ‘governments’ and ‘social structures’ that are examined and criticized in this novel. Unemployment, lack of money, poverty- those are the motifs behind many actions. Conrad’s makes it evidently clear that life is a rat race. There is no place for romanticism here. The desperate need to stay in power doesn’t lurk just behind government’s officials and their actions—at times you get this feeling that nobody is really what he or she appears to be, everyone seems to have a secret agenda.THE ISOLATION AND THE UNCERTAINTYSecrets, secrets, secrets....How much does an average person hide? How much do we hide from ourselves and others? What are our secrets? There seem to be a lot of ‘secrets’ in this novel. A reminder that- both as individuals and society, we all seem to hide a lot. The atmosphere of isolation seemed to be particularly strong in this one. There is a lot of irony written in dialogues, it is very present in the discourse between characters and it only strengthens this feeling. Moreover, I had this feeling there was more irony and sarcasm in The Secret Agent than in other Conrad’s works- or perhaps there were more in the open, not as subtly woven into the story as usual. Speaking of which, this novel seemed even ‘darker’ in tone that other of his works. As always, Conrad doesn’t shy away from examining the dark side of human nature, be it from an individualist or a social point of view. The sinister side of organized power appears as potentially horrifying as the violent madness of anarchism. The conversations between anarchists chilled my blood. The fact that many of them (in this novel) are pathetic figures who prefer talking to doing, doesn't make them less scary. The fascination with death, the desire to end it all- these things are very real. Moreover, these feelings 'of wanting it all to end' can be found in present days as well. The sort of moral ambiguity that is so prevalent today is a slippery ground. Anarchism flourishes easily on the fertile land of moral ambiguity. THE NARRATIVE, THE PORTRAYAL OF CHARACTERS AND THE ENDINGThe pace of the novel suited me just fine. When it comes to Conrad, I’m by now used to his sometimes very long descriptions. When it comes to describing every physical and psychological aspect of his time, this writer really takes his time- to the point it can be distracting to the narrative. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘reader-friendly’ book, but it is not terribly difficult to follow either. It did take me a long time to read it, but to be fair- it was no fault of this novel. It was neither me nor Conrad, it was a vicious disease I’m fighting and the fact I’ve been in and out of hospitals for the last few months. The only fault I could find with the novel is a bit of unbalance. Conrad is amazing when it comes to drawing incredibly detailed portraits of all of his characters, but there was a point when the combination of profound soul searching and the succession of characters felt overwhelming.I did enjoy reading this one and for the most part the plot seemed well developed. I only struggled a bit when it came to the middle of the novel. At times I even struggled with keeping my focus, but in the end it was more than worth it. The ending was immensely powerful. I didn’t expect Conrad to write something so brutal and naturalistic. The actions of one female character (and her complete transformation) caught me completely by surprise, but all the same- it made perfect sense in the context of this sad story. I don’t want to say anything more to avoid the spoilers, but the ending really fitted the bleak tone of the novel. I felt like I saw another side to Conrad, another style of writing that is more bitter and naturalistic than poetic, but equally brilliant. Would I recommend it? Absolutely. It is an original and a though-provoking novel, albeit a rather depressive one.

  • Nigeyb
    2019-03-24 10:26

    The Secret Agent (1907) by Joseph ConradWhat a novel. Magnificent. Incredibly convoluted, dense, sporadically boring, but also extraordinary prescient, dark, beautifully written, occasionally amusing, sometimes laugh out loud funny, but, above all, always strangely compelling. This London novel takes place during the 1880s and involves a small group of mostly ineffectual anarchists. Conrad writes compelling portraits of these disaffected participants. One of them, Adolf Verloc, is a shopkeeper with a family to provide for, who is also paid as an agent for a foreign embassy. Verloc's handler convinces him to blow up the Greenwich Observatory to highlight the dangers of socialism and anarchism to Britain's political class. Things go awry and the bungled bombing is the springboard for a winding narrative which embraces politicians, the police, foreign diplomats, fashionable society, criminals and anarchists.The Secret Agent is said to have influenced the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, which is understandable, especially the character of the Professor who is completely ruthless and contemptuous of humanity. He carries a flask of explosives in his coat, which can be detonated within twenty seconds of him squeezing an India-rubber ball in his pocket, so he is feared by all, including the police.Despite the book's title, The Secret Agent is wide-ranging, and explores a range of characters from a broad section of society and goes into the details of their lives, their motivation and inner world, and their interactions. Joseph Conrad uses this breadth to explore themes like politics, domestic life, gender relations, disability, expediency, anarchism, terrorism, policing, spy agencies, London, and power. This is both the book's greatest strength and sometime a slight weakness: Joseph Conrad crams so much into this book that whilst it's rich in detail, it is also sometimes quite hard work. I never expected to roar with laughter though whilst reading The Secret Agent, however there is a lot sly, subtle humour in the novel and also some very amusing scenes.The Secret Agent is an absorbing and very prescient book which, whilst sometimes challenging, is an essential read, not least in how it foretold many of the themes of the twentieth century. 5/5

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-03-12 06:33

    My first Joseph Conrad. Like Clarice Lispector, he was born in Ukraine but was raised elsewhere (Poland, in Conrad's case). The impression this book left me is that Conrad wasn't only a gifted storyteller with deep psychological insights, but he was also the type who can erupt with melodious and poetic language even in such trifles as a cabman looking at some pieces of silver given to him by a passenger as payment for a ride:"The cabman looked at the pieces of silver, which, appearing very minute in his big, grimy palm, symbolized the insignificant results which reward the ambitious courage and toil of a mankind whose day is short on this earth of evil."The setting, of course, was at the turn of the 20th century, in London, this novel itself having been first published in 1907. The cabman here isn't the taxi driver we know today. "Cab" here is a box driven by a horse. But think about it, for a moment. Let's say you've just taken a taxi ride and, reaching your destination, you pay the driver with several notes, keep the change, thank you. Would any such taxi driver ever say, looking at the notes, that they "symbolize the insignificant results which reward the ambitious courage and toil of a mankind whose day is short on this earth of evil"? Can any of our current writers create a passing character like that who would think that way? I think not. We no longer have a Conrad in our midst.Now, never get the idea that this is just one of those highfalutin novels with airy expressions that bores readers to death or give them headaches because of their storyless obscurity. Here is a part of the plot and its principal characters:1. The Secret Agent - Mr. Verloc. An Englishman terrorist who secretly works for a foreign government and frequents its embassy in London. As a cover, he maintains a small shop which sells pornographic materials and condoms;2. The Wife - Mrs. Verloc, or Winnie. Much younger than Mr. Verloc who was not her real love (she was unacceptable to her true love's family), but she married him because he was basically a good man and an excellent provider, and willing to take even the next two characters--;3. The Brother - Stevie, Winnie's younger brother, mentally retarded, with hard to understand speech impediment, but deep inside is a good boy with a deep sense of compassion;4. The Mother - the siblings' mother, old and lame. She loved her children and is worried sick about Stevie's future.The Wife and the Mother have high respect and gratitude towards the Secret Agent for keeping all of them even if he actually on has an obligation to one (his wife). This, they never fail to inculcate upon the feeble mind of the Brother who, because of this, worships the Secret Agent like a demi-god. The Secret Agent, on the other hand, is fond of his wife and, since he is not an evil person, does not resent the presence of the Brother and the Mother but is only at best indifferent to them.One day, the Mother leaves the house and decides to just spend the rest of her remaining days in a charitable institution. She does this thinking of her son's (Stevie's) future, what with his incurable mental impairment. She reasons that with one less mouth to feed, the Secret Agent will find it easier to keep her son and will never abandon him.Later, the Secret Agent, encouraged by the Wife, begins to take the Brother with him in his frequent, long, mysterious walks. One time as the Wife sees them leaving she says to herselfin peaceful contentment: "they are just like father and son."The Secret Agent, however, was given a secret mission by his patrons. He is instructed to plant a bomb at an observatory and blow it up. Without intending to harm the Brother in any way, he decides to use him for the mission. He thinks he could use this simpleton to carry the bomb inside the observatory, leave it there, then hurry back before it explodes in 15 minutes. If he is caught, the police won't be able to get anything out of his disjointed and incoherent speech. Besides, the boy wouldn't know he'll be carrying a bomb. So he carefully rehearses him several times.The fateful day comes, the Brother's mind proved to be incapable of acting in accordance with the procedure he had practiced many times with the Secret Agent. The bomb explodes in his hands. The police gathered up his remains using a shovel. Now, let's say at this point Joseph Conrad died and left this novel unfinished. You were then tasked to complete it for a movie version, goodreads having discovered your Conrad-like writing style through your prolific reviews. How would you end the story? Here is the Mother, who loved her son dearly, and who had just made a personal sacrifice for his future. Here is the Wife, fiercely loving and loyal to her helpless little brother, what would you make her do for a fitting finale of this great plot? The Secret Agent, committing a most horrible blunder, how would you write his inevitable confrontation with his wife, the sister of the boy he unintentionally turned into a mass of meat and entrails in a park?

  • Rıdvan
    2019-02-24 08:19

    Bu kitap öncelikle roman görünümlü bir şiir kitabı. Böyle olunca nefret ediyorum işte. Bir sürü kitaba 5 yıldız verdim, pki ben şimdi bu kitaba kaç yıldız vereceğim? Bu kitap hepsinden daha güzel. Hiç bu kadar dolu bir kitap okumamıştım. Yani Dosto Baba kusura bakmasında bu kitap bir acaip. Bir kere dedim ya şiir gibi. O kadar güzel okunuyor ki. Yani buram buram edebiyat kokuyor. Üslup bir harika. Sanki kalemle yazılmamış, adeta eline çekici, murcu almış koca bir kayayı heykeltıraş gibi kıra dove yazmış bu kitabı Joseph Conrad.Tabi bu aynı zamanda bilimsel bir yayın da desek hiç mi hiç sırıtmaz, zira dünyayı yöneten sistemin nasıl bir system olduğu, çarkların nasıl döndüğü ve sistemin dışına nasıl çıkılamadığını da anlatan bir eser. Kasa her zaman kazanır ve onun aksine yapılan her eylem onu daha da güçlendirir ve daha da kötüsü yaptığı işkenceleri masumlaştırır, öldürdüklerini ise katilleştirir.Kurgu muhteşem. Sol görüşülü bir çete var. Bir eylem peşinde. Amacı halkı bazı konulara uyandırmak. Eylem mekanını Greenwich Gözlem Evi olarak seçiyorlar. (Neden onca mabed varken bu bilim yuvasını tercih ediyorlar, kitapta çok güzel anlatmış yazar.) Kimseyi öldürmemek kaydıyla eylem gerçekleştiriliyor ancak eylemde bir ziinsel engelli arkadaş hayatını kaybediyor. Ardından çete biraz karışıyor. Herkes kendini kurtarmaya çalışırken birbirlerini satmaya başlıyor. Bu sırada devleti temsil eden eden kurum, emniyette de işler karışıyor. Müfettişler de çıkar çatışmasına düşüyorlar ve başlarına buyruk hareket edip kendileri çözmeye çalışıyorlar davayı. Özetle diyor ki kitap; insan oğlu bencildir. Ve bu bir terci değildir. Solcu da olsan sağcıda olsan, dinci de olsan, dinsiz de olsan, fenerlide olsan, cimbomlu da olsan insanoğlıu bencildir arkadaş. Her durumda once kendisini düşünür. Detaylandıradan once karakterlere bakalım;Adolf Verloc: Bir kere şunu söyleyeyim, bu adı ilk okuduğumda şunu düşündüm. Yazar Conrad bir polonyalı.(kitabı ingilizce yazmış olsada) Ve bu karaktere Adolf ismini vermiş. Kesin Hitler'e bir atıf var. Verloc sol görüşlü bir örgütün maşası, işçisi. Örgüt yöneticileri bazı kararlar alıyorlar, finanasman ve ekipman sağlıyorlar. Ve nihayetinde verloc bu alınan kararlarn uygulayıcısı oluyor. Örneğin son eylemde Greenwich 'te bomba eylemini planlıyor.Örgütün kendisini çok önemli sayan, anlaşıldığı kadarıyla toplum sevdasını çoktan kaybetmiş, sadece kendi egosuna hizmet eden ve bunun içinde koca örgütü kullanan ve orda burda eylem kararı alan bir yöneticisi var; Vladmir. İşte bu Vladmir aynı zamanda terrorist olmadığı anlarda, büyük elçi gibi bir şey. Yani toplumunda en üst kademelerinde biryerlerde. Kendisini beğenmiş, şımarık bir tip. Verloc'a tonal laf sayıyor ve eylemi hemen gerçekleştirmesini emrediyor. Böyle tepeden tepeden konuşup adamın canını sıkıyor. Winnie Verloc; Adolf'un eşi. Kocası, annesi ve zihinsel engelli kardeşiyle beraber yaşıyorlar. Şu Verloc'un eylemde bombayı taşıması için kullanacağı ve sonunda planlanmayan bir şekilde hayatını kaybedecek olan küçük erkek kardeş. Annesi ve kardeşi Winnie'nin herşeyi. Onlar için yaşıyor ve bu Verloc denen adama katlanıyor. Her ne kadar Adolf'ten nefret etsede onlar için bu adama katlanmak zorunda. Adolf aslında çalışkan, hırslı, içkisi kumarı olmayan evine eşine bağlı bir koca. Üstelik Winnie 'yi de çok seviyor. Ama soğuk biri. Pasif agrasif desek olur hani. Winnie sürekli ona hizmet ediyor. Kitapta çok kereler vurgulandığı üzre Winnie bir köle. Geyşa misali sadece hizmet ediyor. Duygularını evlendiği gün gmmüş derinlere. Hiç bir şey hissetmiyor. Gıkını çıkarmadan kocasına hizmet ediyor. Sadece kendisinden isteneni yapan bir robot köle.Örgüt yönetiminden azar işiten Adolf vakit geçirmeden eylem hazırlıklarına başlıyor. Ve Winnşe'nin kardeşine bombayı veriyor. Koca bombayı gidip gözlem evine bırakıp gelmesini istiyor ve detayları oldukça açık bir şekilde tariff ediyor. Ancak çocuk zihinsel engelli ve daha gözlem evinin önünde ki parkta ilerlerken ayağı takılıyor ve bombayla beraber havaya uçuyor.Winnie'nin hayatını adadığı kardeşi kocası olacak salak yüzünden ölüyor. Üstelik Adolf sanki hiç suçu yokmuş gibi karısına gidip -Hadi amaaaa ağlama şimdi. Üzme tatlı canını gel bakayım yanımadiyor. Winnie 'den yıllarca hiç tepki görmeyen Adolf yine tepki görmeyeceğini sanıyor ancak bu sefer öyle olmuyor ve Winnie eline geçirdiği bıçağı sokuveriyor Adolf domuzunun kalbine.Final ise şöyle. Cinayet gecesi Winnie dışarı çıkıyor ve örgüt üyelerinden Ossiponla karşılaşıyor. Ona kocasını öldürdüğünü ve kendisini kaçırması gerektiğini, kocasını bütün parasının kendi cebinde olduğunu söylüyor. Ossipon ise yıllardır ona aşık olduğunu ve Adolf yüzünden bir türlü açılamadığını...en sonunda 'solcu' Ossipon paraları alıp kaçıyor, Winnie ise.... söylemiceeeeemmm:)Sonunda Ossiponla bir dialog var ki ders niteliğinde. Hani system adta Ossipon'u alıyor karşısına ve diyor ki-Hani bana kızıyordun. Bak gördün mü? Fırsatını bulunca sen benden de beter davrandın. Sizin tek derdiniz sistemde yer edinebilmek. Sistemi asla yıkmak istemediniz. Tam tersine sistemin en büyük aşıkları sislersiniz. Yalnızca onu kimseyle paylaşmak istemiyorsunuz..Bu arada çevirmen Ünal Autür'e de sonsuz teşekkürler. Çok iyi iş başarmış.

  • Melody
    2019-03-17 11:31

    Trying to decide if you “liked” a book can become a complicated process. Oh, not for some books. Some books catch you quickly and slyly sink in and mingle with your reality and whisper to you during the day when you are supposed to be working or driving or running. But there are some just plain stubborn books; books that almost seem to be daring you to put them down and move on to something else. Conrad’s The Secret Agent affected me that way. I read the Introduction, the select Bibliography, the Chronology and the Author’s preface and was very intrigued. I loved learning about the parallels in the story with the events in the author’s life. I liked seeing what historical events were taking place during the time Conrad was working in the Belgian Congo. I enjoyed reading about how the author came up with the idea for the story: Someone had attempted to blow up the Greenwich Observatory and instead blew himself to bits. And a friend of Conrad’s observed: “Oh, that fellow was half an idiot. His sister committed suicide afterwards.” The Secret Agent is a man called Mr. Verloc. He’s married a woman who looks after her invalid mother and her “not quite right” brother. Winnie Verlock has settled for this existence. Her husband runs a store that sells male potency pills and soft porn. He doesn’t do much business, but Winnie asks no questions and tolerates life. Suddenly her life is disrupted when an officer comes to the house with a cloth with their address written on it which was taken from the body that was blown into a million bits and pieces and had to be collected with a shovel after being disintegrated by a bomb which was intended for the Greenwich Observatory. Her brother is missing and it dawns on her that her brother was wearing the coat which had the cloth address sewn into it. Her husband is responsible for the murder of her brother.It’s a pretty simple, straightforward story and one that shouldn’t take too long to tell. But after we meet Winnie, and Adolf and Stevie and Mr. Vladimir we have to have conversation after conversation between Mr. Verloc, the secret agent, and the First Secretary of the Embassy and Mr. Vladimir and other shady characters and I’d find myself very disengaged and instead of escaping from reality with my book I’d be sorting out some work entanglement or planning dinner or (worse than anything) silently singing a small inane segment of some pop tune. I found I didn’t care if this was one of the first books about a terrorist act. The whole engaging conversation that had occurred earlier in the book about how anarchists should make it clear that they are “determined to make a clean sweep of the whole social creation” by “directing [their:] blows at something outside the ordinary passions of humanity” which had intrigued me so much in the beginning suddenly was forgotten and I cared so much more about the split-end I had just spotted or who was driving by in that loud car. In short, the book became very tedious and I lost any concern for the characters or about the outcome. But then I’d find myself thinking about The Secret Agent during the day. I’d wonder about Winnie’s earlier boyfriend, the butcher, whose father refused to let him marry Winnie because she came as a package with an invalid mother and a half-wit brother. I'd try to decide if I thought Stevie was autistic. Or I’d stumble on a sentence like this:He paused, and a snarl lifting his moustaches above a gleam of white teeth gave him the expression of a reflective beast, not very dangerous – a slow beast with a sleek head, gloomier than a seal, and with a husky voice.And I’d much rather have that sentence bouncing around in my head than have the partial chorus to some Kate Perry song. Gloomier than a seal! Man I love that phrase! I’m almost tempted to give the dang book 4 stars just because of that seal reference. But then, no, I can’t, I do have too intense a memory of barely getting through 2 paragraphs before my eyes began to shut and my conscience thought started merging with that of the dream world and I’ll stay with a three star rating. But I will recommend that you read this 1907 book on political terrorism.

  • Tfitoby
    2019-03-08 05:17

    Second book in a row that appears on American high school curriculum and this time I have to wonder what educators are trying to achieve by teaching it. The text is very dense and I can't imagine many teens getting anything out of this when having it forced upon them. Without a doubt Conrad can tell stories and knows the words to tell them with but Jesus he has inspired the least impressive review I have ever felt the need to write. Page after page of political ranting, no thank you. I'm sorry Daniel, it might be one of your favourite novels but my literary tastes are slightly less Victorian.

  • Yulia
    2019-03-04 08:21

    I actually thought the first chapter was perfection. So how could the creator of that chapter have produced the second chapter, allowing everything he'd built up to be ravaged by adverbs? Did Conrad use up his Spidey juice? Or was he saving his talent for later efforts, believing one solid chapter would be enough to lull the reader into head-bobbing idolatry? I don't get it.

  • Alan
    2019-03-04 08:16

    this is a re-read - chosen because it was a small hardback copy and fitted in my inside pocket so's I could read on the train (replacement bus!) on a trip to the folks. About time I re-read anyway, the last time was for 'A' level in 1973. The copy I have is a school copy too (from 1960), and has double lines next to paragraphs saying 'IRONY' and others 'DESCRIPTION' - I'm glad they told me, I wouldn't have known. Read c100 pages on the trip there and back and it's as good as I remember, although I thought the explosion came later on in the book, was almost the climax, but it comes really early on.....fantastic. OK there was a slight lull about half way through where there are a lot of meetings in boardrooms and offices, men pontificating, albeit enlivened by such wonderful descriptions as Sir Ethelred opened a wide mouth, like a cavern, into which the hooked nose seemed anxious to peer; there came from it a subdued rolling sound, as from a distant organ with the scornful indignation stop.Also as this book points out Conrad makes occasional slips of grammar (eg 'steady like a rock' instead of 'as'). My 'A' level teacher, I remember, said he had a 'florid' style, not altogether approvingly, but I loved it. I remember learning new words like 'incarceration' (I came from a pretty book-less house) and 'hperborean'. I also loved (and still do) the vivid images: Winnie's shadow on the ceiling and the upturned hat being two that have stuck through the 40 years since I read it; London as a wheezy, corrupt and deadening character itself (a la Dickens): the enormous town slumbering monstrously on a carpet of mud under a veil of raw mist. And of course the actual characters: the indolent Verloc; the misanthropic Professor who has a bomb strapped to him at all times. Stevie. And most of all Winnie. It is Winnie's book in the end, it is all about the problems of loving in a brutal and/or expedient world. About someone waking up to find the world not as they thought, and too much to take. Five big stars.

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)
    2019-03-04 03:37

    I started this book during a speed dating project and decided to try to finish all those books I dated and decided to keep and finish before the end of 2015. Conrad himself had to defend this book to critics - it isn't his usual style, they didn't understand the context, etc. There is a brief intro in my edition by Conrad that attempts to justify it, but to me it was a justification it didn't need.Published in 1907, the central story of this short (but incredibly dense) novel is a bombing scheme gone wrong. The anarchists (organized, ha) are targeting the Greenwich Observatory, but instead a man wearing a bomb has exploded in a park. The Assistant Commissioner and Chief Inspector are attempting to solve the case, and the action seems to circulate around a tiny little shop on a dark street. There are a few issues with the text for me. Conrad writes with such density that it takes a real effort to untangle what is actually going on. The pacing is confusing for the first half as we meet a lot of people who may or may not figure into anything later. I understand misdirection but it seems excessive. He spends copious effort describing obese characters that for a while I thought the lesson would be not to discount fat people (because they aren't all idiots, do you get it?) TIt was a bit puzzling. The book swirls around a while but the second half is a lot more interesting. And if you think of the timing of this story, right before the Bolshevik revolution hit the world, Conrad may be offering a bit of a warning. One of his anarchists says to another, "To the destruction of what is!" and this seems to be the most chilling line of the entire novel.

  • Leslie
    2019-02-26 10:24

    Terrorists stalk London and, guess what? They're a pretty pathetic lot. Yet somehow their patheticness makes them more frightening because it makes them more human. These aren't omniscient supercriminals but sad and mostly ordinary men whose roles as self-appointed agents of violent social change make them feel important and superior to the oblivious peons around them (and thus able to ignore or dismiss the damage they do to them). Conrad's story about a terrorist plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory at the end of the nineteenth century (the book was written in 1907 and loosely based on a real incident) is fascinating and weirdly modern despite its late-Victorian setting. He also plays some interesting narrative games with chronology and the reader's understanding of what's going on.

  • Rashaan
    2019-03-12 11:33

    Like his fellow genius scribes, E. Bronte and Dostoevsky, Joseph Conrad plunges us into the dark Nietzschean swamps of the human soul. He dares to look into the abyss and unflinchingly reaches in, grasping the monsters within us. With his adept hands, in the blazing light of his vision and words, Conrad holds us up to ourselves. Winne Verloc, like Kurtz, is vividly cast. She is a white, hot flash of brilliance. Conrad depicts her in crystal clear pitch. She seems to be drawn from Ophelia, innocent, yet unknowingly complicit, and guilty by association. Conrad's anti-heroine is drawn into the madness, greed and pride of her relations. This is clearly a man's world, and this world eats souls, bodies, hearts and minds, regardless of gender, class, disposition, and nationality. At the heart of the empire whose sun supposedly never sets, the city spits out the entrails of this gobbledygook of mixed ideals, twisted and defunct morals and base agendas.The scenes with Mr & Mrs Verloc palpitate. Conrad skillfully knows when to slow the rhythm of his narrative and expand on exposition to give us entry into the hearts and minds of husband and wife. He also intuits exactly when to speed up, and we see action and thought collide in precise explosions. Though Conrad is never easy to read, the passages with secondary characters, such as Vladimir and Inspector Heat are particularly obscure, fuzzy, and difficult to follow. We don't quite grasp who is doing what or why. Only in the Verloc's shop does Conrad lay all his cards out on the table, so we know exactly what's at stake: the heart and soul of humanity.

  • Neil Denham
    2019-03-11 03:44

    really tedious. i know many regard it as a classic, but i found any story there is in there is swamped by odd details, confusing political ramblings and side musings that appear unrelated. perhaps i am just not clever enough to 'get it'...

  • Poncho
    2019-02-28 09:16

    This book of madness and despair.

  • Jon(athan) Nakapalau
    2019-03-05 06:22

    The inner workings of a terrorist cell are examined in this tale of ideology and betrayal. Should be required reading for military/law enforcement personnel.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-03-18 07:30

    (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  • James
    2019-03-22 11:17

    First, I tend to dislike Conrad as a matter of principle, maybe because I was force fed Heart of Darkness in school...The Secret Agent, however, is unique among Conrad's "work." First of all, the cynicism is directed not just at one or two groups but the entire culture of the western world and the many flawed sub-cultures springing from it. Each group has an anti-hero that you find yourself rooting for one moment and rooting for another character to catch him the next...There is a tragic death early on in the novel that, as the book moves back and forward, forms into a type of sacrifice on the altar of everything that is us and is wrong. Conrad attempted and, in my opinion succeeded, a broken time line in the novel. Something that every film maker since Pulp Fiction has been trying ad nauseam. This heightened the mystery of whose body it was that blew up in Greenwich... Lastly, the character called The Professor was chilling and heroic. Deformed physically from birth and mentally by the society he was raised and educated in, the Professor walks around London in a constant dream of bringing it all down. Ending the illusions of control that everyone shares. His toast, "To the end of what is." can be as appropriate in these times as in Conrad's.

  • Anthony
    2019-03-20 03:44

    Conrad can be remarkably prescient--there are so many lines in here that made me think of 9/11, Al Qaeda, and our contemporary conflict in Afghanistan. "Madness alone is truly terrifying," he writes, "inasmuch as you cannot placate it either by threats, persuasion, or bribes." Later he writes, "There were no rules for dealing with anarchists."