Book Review: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

the secret agentTitle: The Secret Agent
Author: Joseph Conrad
Genre: Classics / Fiction
2016 (1907)
Publisher: Penguin
Started: 2nd February 2018
Completed: 5th February 2018
Rating: 4.5/5
Summary: ‘The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket.’ Set in an Edwardian London underworld of terrorist bombers, spies, grotesques and fanatics, Conrad’s dark, unsettling masterpiece asks if we ever really know others, or ourselves.

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was a Polish-British writer who wrote a variety of short stories and novels, many of which had a nautical setting.

His birth name was Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski.

I started this book last year but never finished it. So, I decided to start it again rather than picking up where I left off last time and I ended up reading it fairly quickly.

The plot is fairly simple but it’s incredible. The book is set in London in 1886 and the main character, Mr Adolf Verloc, works as a spy for an unnamed country (probably Russia). It’s a tale of espionage and terrorism and the exploitation of vulnerable people. The Secret Agent was influenced by the Greenwich Bombing of 1894 when a French anarchist died when the explosives he was carrying detonated early. Stevie, Mr Verloc’s brother-in-law, is based on this person and what happened to him. However, Conrad makes you sympathise with the bomber, Stevie, because it wasn’t his idea. He was just a pawn in this plot, someone considered to be dispensable, and my heart broke Mrs Verloc found out what happened to her brother. 

The Secret Agent is so well written. I can’t even begin to describe how clever Conrad’s writing is. It’s just beautiful. Conrad was a master of the English language, despite not being able to speak it fluently until he was in his twenties, but there’s something distinctly non-English about his style. It’s very unique and so compelling.

The time shifts left me a tad confused as the novel just jumped between the past and present without warning. I don’t mind non-linear narratives as long as there’s some indication that the time has moved forward or backwards. Perhaps I just need to pay a little bit more attention when I’m reading this book next time but I did get a little bit confused.

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending. I would have liked to see some justice for Stevie but, as the book says, ‘the terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket.’

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone. I’m so glad that I’ve finally read it. Which Conrad novel should I read next?

Read for The Classics Club.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

      1. Yes, I liked what I read, it’s just that I followed another reading path. (I had just read his Heart of Darkness, and besides the controversy his book incites, I simply fell in love with his writing.)

        Liked by 1 person

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