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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Favourite
I don't know how many copies of this I have got through over the years as it is one of those stories that I just love reading, and in some aspects it always give me something new every time I read it. I was very happy to see that I could get this copy for free for my kindle. I am always surprised how people think of Conrad as one of the greatest of English writers,...
Published on 13 Feb. 2011 by M. Dowden

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Joseph Conrad - The Secret Agent | Review
I first read The Secret Agent because it was required reading for my 'London in Literature' university module, and I'm sorry to say that it was one of only two books from the semester that disappointed me (the other being Mrs Dalloway). There's just something about Conrad's writing style that doesn't sit well with me, and it feels more like a chore than a pleasure...
Published 17 months ago by SocialBookshelves.com


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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Favourite, 13 Feb. 2011
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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I don't know how many copies of this I have got through over the years as it is one of those stories that I just love reading, and in some aspects it always give me something new every time I read it. I was very happy to see that I could get this copy for free for my kindle. I am always surprised how people think of Conrad as one of the greatest of English writers, although he was Polish and English wasn't his native tongue, but he also arguably brought something to the English novel, a more European approach.

This tale although published in 1907 is set in London in the 1880s, and it was inspired by a true event in the 1890s. Although not that popular at the time it has since come to be regarded as a classic and a masterpiece, as it so well shows us our world, also it has some of the darkest, blackest humour of any work.

Verloc is an agent provocateur in the pay of a foreign government. Running a small stationery shop, having settled down and married, taking on his wife's retarded brother and her mother, Verloc holds meettings with his fellow aged anarchists. And that is all they do, hold meetings amongst themselves, after all they are all getting on, have all settled down to some degree to a comfortable life of freedom in England. But a spanner is about to be thrown into the works. With Verloc's chief replaced he is told in no uncertain terms that he must do something for his money. Thus begins Verloc's task of committing an outrage.

Taking in Verloc's home life, the lives of his friends and the machinations of a certain foreign power, as well as the investigation of the terrorist act and the political machinations that that involves this is the ideal read for anyone interested in politics and terrorism. To be honest I have urged many people to read this over the years, and so far everyone who has has absolutely enjoyed it, so if you want to read something that is powerful and will give you an insight into how things really are, then give this a try, you won't be disappointed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The first spy story ever?, 7 July 2012
By 
Peasant (Deepest England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Few people now realise that, at the end of the 19th century Britain was experiencing regular terrorist scares. "Anarchist outrages", of the sort that were eventually to start the First World War, were one response by those who opposed the totalitarian regimes in Russia and Austria. Then as now, some of the terrorists were over here, given refuge by a liberal government, resented by the more authortarian elements, and only partly understood by our intelligence services.

This is the background to Conrad's tale. His family had personal experience of political oppression and persecution in his home country of Poland; when he came to England he was, in some ways, a refugee himself. He understands aspects of this underworld in ways no British writer could, and constructs for us an unglamorous society of double-agents, intelligence officers, idealists and extremists, vain flaneurs and fellow-travellers, which will be familiar to readers of later writers in the genre such as Graham Greene and John le Carre. If anything you read here sounds cliched, remember that when Conrad wrote he was the first; it is later writers who have borrowed his motifs and threads.

At the core of Conrad's tale is a domestic trgedy; the "simple tale" of the subtitle. It is this which lifts The Secret Agent from thriller to great novel. I won't do a spoiller if I tell you that, in this novel with hardly a sympathetic character, your sympathies will be aroused, twisted and dashed against the stones several times. Do read it; it is very original, thoroughly gripping, and ultimately surprising.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Thriller, 27 July 2010
This review is from: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
If most modern thrillers are like a boxing glove, showing you the force and direction, sometimes misdirection, of the punch, then this book is the inside of that glove - giving all the thoughts, feelings, assumptions and life choices that went into the punch. It's an exquisite book that combines the pulse of a good plot with a convincing understanding of what makes people tick.

Mr Verloc is a lazy spy in the pay of the Russian government in late 19th Century London. His job is to report on anarchists and revolutionaries as the tide of change and worker's rights sweeps across Europe. England's tolerant attitudes don't suit Moscow and so Verloc is asked to concoct a bombing atrocity in order to stiffen the backbone of the British Government.

So far so good, but this novel is only superficially, if stylishly, concerned with geopolitics. Conrad's real concern is driving deep into the motives and methods of Mr and Mrs Verloc and what lies behind their relationship and indeed, behind the mechanics of each of the relationships that is exposed in this novel. It transpires that Mrs Verloc has married to secure the future of her sub-normal brother Stevie, who is the real love in her life. So that in fact, whilst Mr Verloc appears to be the secretive one, his motives are transparent - money - whilst those of Mrs Verloc are deeply under cover, until Stevie is killed in the bombing, when the real action starts. Around all of this are a group of policemen, politicians and anarchists, living in each other's pockets and both needing and loathing each other.

Each encounter is played both straight, as a means of moving the plot forward, and diagnostically, as a forensic examination of the motives and objects of each participant. The action moves ahead relentlessly but the pace is like a stopped clock with every look, remark and thought chewed over to extract flavour from it. It's the same technique as Flaubert's Madame Bovary but whereas that novel seems to stretch on into infinity, here the need to move the action on through the bombing to the police investigation brings tension to the story that makes the slow pacing work with the action not against it.

All that said, this was not a great commercial success on publication, with only a few thousand copies being sold. And anyone being misled by the title to expect a spy adventure story will be very disappointed. If however you want a thriller where the action is slowed down so that why things happen is as clear as what happens, you will greatly enjoy this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skillful, 21 Jun. 2011
By 
Christian (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I would love to give this book a top five stars, but ultimately I couldn't. This is a quiet, hidden gem that is skillfully written with a dark tale on the surface and sub themes underneath.

Calling it a simple tale is deliberately ironic as this is anything but that. Mr Adolph Verloc is active in communist circles whilst maintaining an image as a married shopkeeper. But all is not as it appears as we are led through further deepening revelations and twists. And some of those twists are excellently executed and change your view on the direction of the book.

Ultimately this is a tale of the choices of one man and the repercussions that has on those around him. It is often a dark tale yet also rewarding. The readability of it is difficult at first and, whilst it improves, it doesn't quite flow as others books do. That is ultimately why this falls short for me of five stars.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read., 31 May 2011
By 
Dr. G. Nicholls "garethnicholls" (nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent novel and has many unexpected elements to it. The descriptions by the author are engaging, rather than boring, and the characters are well developed. As my first Conrad book, I will be adding him to my list of favourite authors.
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5.0 out of 5 stars No secret - an excellent book, 25 Sept. 2014
This review is from: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is the last 1800s story of Adolf Verloc, happily married, forty something, anarchist agent heading up a motley small group of aged communists (including Michalis, Karl Yundt and Ossipon). His contact, at the foreign embassy, is Vladimia who suggests that society needs a bit of a jolt and suggests blowing up Greenwich Observatory. Verloc owns an `adult' shop as a cover, over which his wife Winnie, her learning difficulties brother and her mother live. Verloc gets a bomb off `The Professor' and sets off for Greenwich. Inspector Heat and his management investigate the explosion.

This is a really excellent domestic drama about people's motives, reactions, understandings and society. This is not James Bond or whodunit - this is the shoddy, grey, turmoil of the hapless underclass and ultimately an existential tragedy. The story is very cinematic, with several versions out there none as good as the book, I'd guess, not least because Conrad tells us quite a lot about individual's inner thoughts. It is remarkably excellent writing.

Read this book. You'll know what I mean when I say you'll love the scene when Winnie notices her clock had started ticking - brilliant stuff.

Some quotes:

"His idleness was not hygienic, but it suited him very well. He was in the manner devoted to it with a sort of inert fanaticism, or perhaps rather with a fanatical inertness."

"he took the part of an insolent and venomous evoker of sinister impulses which lurk in the blind envy and exasperated vanity of ignorance, in the suffering and misery of poverty, in all the hopeful and noble illusions of righteous anger, pity, revolt. The shadow of his evil gift clung to him yet like the smell of a deadly drug in an old vial of poison, emptied now, useless, ready to be thrown away upon the rubbish-heap of things that had served their time"

"I depend of death, which knows no restraint and cannot be attacked. My superiority is evident"

" `You go to bed now. What you need is a good cry'. This opinion had nothing to recommend it but the general consent of mankind"

"A blank wall - perfectly blank. A blankness to run at and dash your head against"
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Bad world for poor people", 16 July 2014
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This review is from: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Said Stevie.

I didn't think one could find such simple sentences in a Conrad novel. But then again, this was a novel of many firsts for him.

Mr Verloc is a middle-aged agent provocateur in the employment of a foreign country. He answers to the latest embassador, Mr Vladimir, who wants Verloc to conduct a terrorist attack that can be blamed on the various emigre socialist/anarchist groups that inhabited London in the 1880s. These groups are a serious problem in Mr Vladimir's native country, so he hopes that the British police will crack down on them. Mr Verloc is threatened with loss of livelihood (his cover being a shop selling obscene materials) in the strictest terms if he does not comply. He chooses to fulfil his mission at the expense of his family, although he is so callous he hardly realises what he has done.

It must be a mark of how confident Conrad, an Ukranian-born, Polish novelist felt in his maturation as a writer that he chose to set the story entirely in London. The sea is absent here. In his former novels, Conrad felt he could not compete with native British writers- but in this one he builds some of his most compelling characters.

Winnie Verloc is Mr Verloc's wife and in her we see Conrad's most believable female character he ever managed to write. She is a stoic, industrious, harmless creature that comes from a very modest background. The only person she cares for in the world is her brother and she has made serious compromises for his sake. It is hard not to sympathise with her situation and the final part of the novel is exclusively about her inner world, which is portrayed with a humanity reminiscent of Dickens.

Verloc himself is a shallow, relatively dull and totally lazy man - Conrad is mercilessly ironic towards him, although it doesn't prevent him from making Verloc totally believable. Every action Verloc takes makes sense given his character. Conrad holds negative views of all "revolutionaries" and he displays then openly in this book which is unusual for such a subtle writer. Inspector Heat calls anarchists "lazy dogs, all of them". Michaelis's views are portrayed as hopelessly naive. The Professor is an intensely misanthropic character and a very authentic one. Ossipon is reptilian up until before the end, when he is disturbed by the consequences of his actions.

Some of the episodes certainly make it Conrad's most human novel. The incident with Stevie and the cabman for example, or Mrs Verloc's mother going away to the almshouse and the brutal description of her quarters there. This may be a political novel on the surface, but underneath it, it is a novel concerned with motives very connected to the social realities of the time. Conrad paints a bleak, disturbing picture of London; I wonder if it is because he could not afford to live there.

This book is part of what I consider Conrad's three great novels which came one right after the other. Nostromo, and Under Western Eyes are the other two. All of them are difficult and inaccessible although the Secret Agent in particular is supposed to be one of Conrad's simplest novels. Dialogue in the Secret Agent is more frequent than in Conrad's other novels and the verbosity is somewhat simpler, although simple only by Conrad's standards. The paragraph-length sentences, the bombardment of adjectives, the non-linear chronology are all here. It is only a simple novel in terms of length (not very long) and story (not particularly convoluted).

I suspected that the Secret Agent started as a short story, something that I confirmed when I read the Author's Note. By the way, this edition is absolutely brilliant. It includes voluminous notes, a brilliant introduction and Conrad's notes approximately thirteen years after he wrote the book. Even the cover is fitting.

Published in 1907, one gets the feeling that the Secret Agent has created and influenced certain literary genres of the 20th century. It is my favourite of Conrad's novels (and I think it was a literary triumph for him, even bigger than Nostromo), yet its bleakness means I cannot easily go back to it. Nevertheless, if anyone wanted to start reading Conrad I would recommend starting right here.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Exterminate! Exterminate!, 24 July 2014
By 
DB "davidbirkett" (Co. Kildare, Ireland (but born & raised Liverpool, UK)) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
It is surprising how little known such an influential book is. Although it had been on my “to read” list for some time it was only shortly before I was due to start it that I found out by chance what it was about. Knowing Conrad, I was expecting a sort of former-day “Our Man in Havana”, but in fact it is set in London and is based on true events. In 1894 a French anarchist accidentally blew himself up near Greenwich Observatory, and his sister committed suicide shortly after. Conrad used these to build a fictional tragicomedy involving a circle of incompetent, verbose, would-be anarchist terrorists, a serious Nietzschean quartermaster to this group known as “The Professor” and an able police inspector who is hampered by a posh boss with a private agenda.

As I read it I was struck by the similarity in mood to Chris Morris’s film “Four Lions”. I wonder if Morris intended this? And did Terry Nation deliberately use the quote above (made by The Professor towards the end of the book) as the Daleks’ catch-phrase?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Blew me away, 6 April 2014
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This review is from: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In this age of state-sponsored terrorism, Joseph Conrad delves deeper and contextualises turn of the century England to pinpoint the forces at work and the antagonists who perpetrate the crime. Bildungsroman. The characters are beautifully drawn and if this book was in smellyvision they would be crawling off the page: Mr. Adolf Verloc, whose "good nature" inspires his indolence, so that the only thing he can be is a spy.

The plot rattles along at a cracking pace - that's not to say it's a cut and paste job like - say - Wilbur Smith - but woven into scenes with real people who are as tangible in 21st century Britain as they were in 19th Century Britain. There is light here too; gentle passages of comedy and black humour as the inevitable moves towards it's conclusion. I really enjoyed it.

It's a great book that carries you away into another world. It's very sad too as lives unravel and perpetrators go unpunished. A must.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Conrad edition, 11 Sept. 2006
Apart from obviously being a Conrad classic and all-out page turner of anarchic proportions, this edition benefits from a unique introduction by author Graham Stewart. In it, Stewart draws striking parallels between the terrorist attacks which penetrated the last decade of the nineteenth century and modern day extremism. The result is that Conrad's archaic work takes on a new, more immediate relevance to its readership as opposed to being neglected as an outdated testimony of foreign espionage. I highly recommend this publication.
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The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics)
The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Classics) by Joseph Conrad (Paperback - 2 Aug. 2007)
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