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The Secret Agent: With an Introduction by Giles Foden (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Joseph Conrad , Giles Foden
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
RRP: 6.99
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Book Description

6 Sep 2007 Vintage Classics


London is under threat. It has become a haven for political exiles and anarchists. Frequent bomb threats and disturbances interrupt the lives of the city's inhabitants, who live in fear of the terrorists in their midst. One such terrorist is Verloc. He is the secret agent who is given the mission to strike right at the heart of London's pride by blowing up Greenwich Observatory. But his decision to drag his innocent family into the plot leads to tragic consequences on a more personal than political level.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; Reprint edition (6 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099511533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099511533
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 771,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joseph Conrad (originally Józef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski) was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. His parents, ardent Polish patriots, died when he was a child, following their exile for anti-Russian activities, and he came under the protection of his tradition-conscious uncle, Thaddeus Bobrowski, who watched over him for the next twenty-five years.

In 1874 Bobrowski conceded to his nephew's passionate desire to go to sea, and Conrad travelled to Marseilles, where he served in French merchant vessels before joining a British ship in 1878 as an apprentice.

In 1886 he obtained British nationality and his Master's certificate in the British Merchant Service. Eight years later he left the sea to devote himself to writing, publishing his first novel, Almayer's Folly, in 1895. The following year he married Jessie George and eventually settled in Kent, where he produced within fifteen years such modern classics as Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes.

He continued to write until his death in 1924. Today Conrad is generally regarded as one of the greatest writers of fiction in English - his third language.

Product Description


"Perenially fascinating... When Joseph Conrad wrote The Secret Agent he was responding imaginatively to a real botched bomb attack on Greenwich, at a time when there was real panic about anarchist extremism throughout Europe" (Guardian)

"An astonishing book" (Ford Madox Ford)

"This damp, dark thriller dances about on satirical feet, from its opening paragraph to the very last, where it suddenly plunges like Chernobyl's core to our own apocalyptic times, seamed with petit-bourgeois envy and crazed fundamentalist dreams. Whether attacking the former or the latter, Conrad never lets go of his grim, twitchy smile." (Adam Thorpe Guardian)

"One of the two unquestionable classics of the first order that [Conrad] added to the English novel" (F.R. Leavis)

Book Description

'Spookily topical' - Guardian

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Passage to Blighty 16 May 2001
By A Customer
E.M. Forster apparently said something to the effect that Conrad's London in 'The Secret Agent' was too dark a place: a foreigners projection of European anxieties onto, in reality, a far more benevolent scene. It's true, Conrad's vision of England's capital is dark, but you'd have to say that it is no darker than, say, moments in Dickens', or even T.S. Eliot's 'Wasteland'. Developments in both the world of Crime Thrillers, and in the reality of terrorism and espionage suggest that Conrad was certainly onto something. Indeed, many now current clichés of the genre can be seen to originate from Conrad's book: mainly that the criminal and the policeman; the terrorist and the 'keeper of the peace' are not worlds apart. Few contemporary writers, however, are quite as keen and scrupulous as Conrad, who is never shy of taking us into the deepest and darkest places in the modern political psyche. Conrad's prose is as intensely atmospheric, as psychologically penetrating, and as layered with ironies as anything you will read in English. Sometimes it takes an 'outsider view' to tell you hard things about your beloved little Island. You won't get Merchant Ivory touching Conrad.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The plot is as follows: Mr Verloc lives with his wife and her backward brother above a `stationery shop' in seedy Soho in the early 20th century. Make of that what you will but there are many fronts and shades of deception right from the start of this novel; the actual nature of the goings-on at the shop thus play a very small role. Our Mr Verloc visits a foreign embassy in chapter 2 (probably the Russians) and reluctantly agrees to carry out an `anarchist' act at Greenwich.

This is a story about how to mess up and how one sad man's foolishness and weak will have a devastating impact on a family. It takes a light-hearted but mocking look at human nature and weakness yet the subject matter is serious and does not let up.

It is quite densely written but you need to get to the end of chapter 3 as things become clearer after that. Do not be put off by the long conversation between Verloc and Vladimir in chapter 2 as this difficult meeting with the embassy official does sow the seed for the carnage that follows (and `carnage' is the correct word here).
It's an early example of a political thriller with some melodrama thrown in but don't expect a light read to start with. There is no instant gratification in tomes of this stature. However, it is a properly-crafted book by an author who knows how to manipulate the reader mercilessly.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not all that simple 10 Jan 2007
By Jonathan Birch VINE VOICE
Conrad's prose is dense, difficult and gorgeous. Before you pick up a book like this, you need to prepare yourself for an author who will happily write eight pages or so of prose between two lines in a conversation and not apologise (in fact there is, as is customary for Conrad, a self-justifying foreword). Patience will reward you with a surprising and darkly humorous tale of anarchists learning that real sources of chaos, anarchy and violence have little to do with abstract ideas.

It's not much like Heart of Darkness. Heart of Darkness is perhaps more important in the history of literature, but this is bigger, richer and more enjoyable. Read both.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars dark and funny at the same time: vintage Conrad 20 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Read this for the second time, after about 6 years. Conrad definitely improves with a second (and third) reading, becomes less dense: one begins to see and savour details in description and/or characterisation which probably were missed first time round in one's desire to get on with the story (never a good tactic with Conrad). Taken slowly and benefitting from going back and re-reading passages this is a wonderful book!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Verloc is an Embassy spy in London at the end of the nineteenth century, who is informed by his (rather shady) employers that it is time he earned his pay by doing more than just submitting reports. The choice of action he chooses to appease those at the Embassy forms the basis of the book, and we see how other characters are affected by what he decides.
At times "The Secret Agent" is a little heavy-going - a section near the middle of the book discussing the Assistant Commissioner of Police and a Chief Inspector enlightens us as to these characters but the circular nature of their conversations grates a little and I felt anxious for the action to return to the far more interesting Mr. Verloc & family. Indeed in Verloc, his wife, brother - and mother - in law, Conrad creates entirely credible, very human characters, and their pain is conveyed to the reader in a manner which made me think: "Yes, that's exactly what people are like."
The ending of the book is a little predictable, but skillfully executed. My major criticism would be the depiction of the shadowy revolutionists - I was never quite sure what they were rebelling against, or why, and they were not as credible as the other characters. This, however, may have been Conrad's aim.
On the whole, an original story which is at times very involving. It also has some very funny moments which are usually quite unexpected, but which seem to work, nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The mother of all detective novels? 5 Feb 1999
By A Customer
Well, that's how it has been described. Don't expect anything like a Frederick Forsythe though. This is a novel of complex characters and is more about domestic life than espionage. The symbolism of the victimization of the innocent by those out to further personal greed and political ideals rings as true at the end of the century as at the begining.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars The Dullest Ever Book About A Secret Agent
This has such a promising title but is such a dull read. The bomb-plot (or so it seemed to me) is pedestrian in idea, execution and presentation. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Bob Ventos
5.0 out of 5 stars Husband enjoyed it
Very good good read since he got kindle fire he,s head never out of the stories it's the best buy ever he enjoyed the books up too now true stories not any thing else thank you.
Published 5 months ago by MILLIE HALL
3.0 out of 5 stars The Secret agent
this was a book club read and was well written but a bleak subject, however there is some humour in the characterisation
Published 5 months ago by Mrs A D Rimmer
4.0 out of 5 stars Needed to study it for university
Excellent value. needed to study it for university. It is a workable book. At the price they are did not mind using a highlighter.
Very good value wadsworth books. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Shirley Asquith
3.0 out of 5 stars Dated?
I seem to find Conrad quite difficult to get into and enjoy, perhaps it's me, and the reader needs time and peace and quiet to absorb and concentrate.
Published 6 months ago by miss.a.j.gadsden
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing
Not only perceptive of the deepest motives of our race, in a context very relevant today, it seems to me that Conrad employs the methods of the psychoanalyst and of the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Peter Venner
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling
This is an excellent reading of one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Although Steven Crossley does not have the most beautiful voice and his range of character... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Enobarbus
4.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Agent
A very interesting book written in a time pre-WWI. Puts you into the era with the atmosphere of the times.
Published 10 months ago by Michael Southgate
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get through...
I love Heart of Darkness, so it's not the oblique writing style that put me off this at all. I just couldn't muster any interest at all in anything that was happening. Read more
Published 12 months ago by thereader33
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tour de Force
Very atmospheric.

As relevant polically as it was when published in 1907. Has been defined as the model novel. A must for Conrad fans.
Published 15 months ago by J. W. B. Richmond
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