Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad

The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad

For a book considered to be one of the first and greatest espionage thrillers, it was murder getting to the end. The writing is stilted and overblown, and I often had to reread passages to make sense of them. "Mrs. Neale was the charwoman of Brett Street. Victim of her marriage with a debaucher joiner, she was oppressed by the needs of many infant children. Red-armed, and aproned in coarse sacking up to the arm-pits, she exhaled the anguish of the poor in a breath of soap-suds and rum, in the uproar of scrubbing, in the clatter of tin pails." Not an easy read.

The plot follows a somewhat incompetent agent provocateur that is playing both sides—talking to the police and working for an anarchist cell. He is forced into an act of insurrection that goes awry and tragedy strikes. I suspect that there are some insightful conclusions that can be drawn with modern terrorism and national security, but frankly I had such a difficult time getting through the superficial story that I was uninterested in looking any deeper. Disappointing.

First Sentence:
Mr. Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law.

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