The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Penguin Popular Classics) Paperback – 27 Sep 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
The common cliché of Victorian society is a rigid hierarchy, an adherence to Christianity and a zeal for moral observance in all walks of life.
Hence, the pendulum swings from one extreme (the crusade to outlaw child labour) at home, to another abroad (the demands for the British government to implement direct rule in India after the mutiny.)
Such a society has invariably, produced a rich seam of literature. From Dracula to HG Wells, from Kipling to Conrad.
Conrad, the outsider, is well placed to present a snapshot of Victorian society. From chronicling imperialism's logical conclusion in The Heart of Darkness, to portraying the seedy underbelly of London society in The Secret Agent.
The fear of foreigners, of anarchists threatening the established order, was the Victorian's bête noir, and Conrad does an admirable job of capturing the flavour of that moral panic.
Although at times the prose may be dense (understandable as English wasn't Conrad's mother tongue) Conrad succeeds in giving us an intriguing, suspenseful story.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Item not received in spite of several emails still not received Sunday 29 mayPublished 1 month ago by Well read
Lengthy descriptions, lack of action. I was reading it for a book club discussion, otherwise I would have given up.Published 2 months ago by DD
Conrad at his best.
A simple tale, maybe, but one that is very well told and one that has stood the test of time superbly well, every character climbs off the page and live... Read more
This read like 2 separate tales - that of the the vercol family and that of the anarchists. the anarchist part in the middle of the book I found boring but loved the vercols,... Read morePublished 3 months ago by susan breen
I found this a better read than ''Heart of Darkness'', although I don't think Joseph Conrad will become one of my selected authors for the future.Published 4 months ago by GEOFF GREEN