Title: The Secret Agent:
A Simple Tale
Author: Joseph Conrad
Genre: Classic / Espionage
Rating: 3 of 5
This classic novel portrays the world of secret agents every bit as bleakly as the average John LeCarré novel…which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the man who wrote Heart of Darkness (“The horror! The horror!”). The book centers on the secret agent Verloc and his interaction with his wife and her family (including her mentally disabled brother, Stevie), his anarchist/revolutionary friends, agents from the police special crimes unit, and a foreign embassy.
Pretty much everyone involved (except for Stevie who is just simple-minded and pathetic) is unlikeable: the family is dysfunctional, the cops are crooked, the anarchists are blowhards (with “the professor” having a particularly disturbing nihilistic viewpoint), the politicians are self-serving, and society in general with its poverty, unfairness, and hypocrisy is just as horrible as any of the individual characters. Basically, everyone is petty, egotistical, and deluded. These ingredients come together in an amateurish attempted terrorist bombing, and the misery that results is like a slow motion car crash that you just can’t look away from.
As far as writing style and structure, some of the sentences are fairly convoluted and there was an unannounced flash-forward and flash-back that took a minute to figure out. I found myself rereading occasionally to figure out what he was saying, but that may have been my own tiredness.
Overall: could serve as a primer on anarchism and/or a depressing look at the nastiness of human nature and the suffering it produces (so, typical Conrad).
One more thing – I’m using this for my 2oth century classic over at the Back to the Classics Challenge.