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The Secret Agent A Simple Tale n/e (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 12 Jun 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (12 Jun. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019953635X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199536351
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 2.3 x 12.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 118,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

"An outstanding edition. First-time readers will welcome the eloquent introductory essay, which places The Secret Agent in the context of both Victorianism and modernism, as well as the very useful supplementary materials on anarchism and degeneration. And those already familiar with the novel will be prompted to re-read it in light of Agathocleous's claim that Conrad, along with his New Woman contemporaries, is exploring marriage and the condition of women as well." --Amanda Claybaugh, Columbia University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

'Spookily topical' - Guardian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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By M. Dowden HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Feb. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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By Peasant TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 July 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
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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Format: Paperback
Having listened to this book being raved about on BBc4's 'a good read' I started to read 'Secret Agent' with great anticipation. However this rapidly became a tiresome drudge as I waded through very long sentences which gave incredibly observant and insightful details generally about thoughts, possibilities and other fairly irrelevant matters. The thread of the story was lost through this lengthy and tedious exercise in linguistics and how to lose the reader in a morass of unnecessary details. I found the notes on meanings and origins to superscripted words etc to be of great value. Wonderful phraseology and sentence structure but as a novel to grip the reader it is an abject failure. If it is a story you want then I would strongly recommend not reading or attempting to read this book.
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Format: 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.
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