The Secret Agent – Review

The Secret Agent
by Joseph Conrad
1907/ 172 – Kindle
Rating –  9


I had no idea what this novel was going to be about when I first started.  It was chosen by a group and the only Conrad book I’ve ever had any use for was Heart of  Darkness so I didn’t approach the narrative in a positive frame of mind. I read.  It was bleak and dreary, the language was archaic in many places and much of it  made almost no sense.  There were very occasional places of humor which kept me reading:  –

It is my business to correct this misapprehension by telling you what the secret service is not. It is not a philanthropic institution. I’ve had you called here on purpose to tell you this.    p. 10 –

but for the most part, it was painful – I didn’t want to pick it up.

Then I came upon the word  “mansuetude” and had to look that up –  or maybe I consulted Wikipedia for a character list – or some historical tid-bit.  Don’t remember.   But in doing that I came across a review or analysis which intrigued me and got me back to the book actually quite interested.  After awhile I looked some other stuff up.  And my interest continued to grow until I was, well,   hooked  like a fish in the sea (to use a Conradian metaphor). –  So go check out the NOTES – 

Suddenly things seemed to clear up – the language was accessible, the metaphors were appropriate (for Conrad),  the structure came together,  the characters were believable (if ironically drawn), the plot became a veritable page-turner.   I’m still wondering a bit about themes – something about the hypocrisy and

The story:   Adolf Verlok is fat, lazy sleaze, a Secret Agent whose task is to set off a bomb in Greenwich thereby shocking the English into doing something about the anarchists.  Ironically,  Verlok is an anarchist himself and his boss knows it.  That’s not the point.  The point is to prove the necessity of the agency’s existence.

His wife, Winnie,  is apparently quite dim seeing little except her younger brother, Stevie, who is developmentally delayed – he is very, very slow,  maybe autistic and easily led.  Winnie’s mother also lives with the Verlocks in their home behind Verlock’s little porn shop in Soho.

Verlock associates with a small group of anarchists,  Ossipon, Yundt, Michaelis and the Professor.  Together they talk and produce and distribute pamphlets under the heading “The Future of the Proletariat.”

So Mr. Verlock sets off to put a real scare into London by setting off a bomb. He has Stevie, who worships him,  help with the project.  And things go very wrong – and wronger.

Interesting lines: 

Mr Verloc was going westward through a town without shadows in an atmosphere of powdered old gold.  p.5

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