I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Perhaps it was due to actual events that unfolded last week that made me less than enthusiastic about perusing a book whose central character was a terrorist setting to blow up a building.
While some may argue that the book was truly a manifestation of anarchist activities, I felt the book did very little expounding on the rebellions’ activities, and instead was a character study of day to day existence, including secrets, misunderstandings and ultimate tragedies.
The Secret Agent is set in London and based on the 1894 bombing of The Greenwich Observatory.
Adolf Verloc is the hapless secret agent and proprietor of a small shop that sells pornography and knickknacks. After an attempted bombing goes quite wrong with tragic results to his own brother-in-law, Verloc is astounded that his wife is not more sympathetic and understanding. Clueless!
The most developed character, Winnie Verloc is a strong woman, and extremely devoted to her family. Choosing to keep in the dark about her husband’s extracurricular activities, her world falls apart when she must confront the truth and her life of sacrifice ends with deaths, inflicted and self-inflicted.
Vladimir is an evil employee of the Embassy who harangues Verloc mercilessly and then provides specific details on bombing the Observatory as a means to prove his worth in securing his employ with the embassy.
What didn’t work for me was the inexplicable departure of Winnie Verloc’s mother. While it was insinuated that she left in order to secure her son’s future, it wasn’t clear how that would be accomplished. While everything fell neatly in to place at the book’s conclusion, it was quite apparent as events occurred that they would play into future outcomes; Ossipon’s glances at Winnie and Winnie’s securing money inside her dress.
“Do you know how I would call the nature of the present economic conditions? I would call it cannibalistic. That’s what it is! They are nourishing their greed on the quivering flesh and the warm blood of the people–nothing else.”
No man engaged in a work he does not like can preserve many saving illusions about himself. The distaste, the absence of glamour, extend from the occupation to the personality. It is only when our appointed activities seem by a lucky accident to obey the particular earnestness of our temperament that we can taste the comfort of complete self-deception.
Like the rest of mankind, perplexed by the mystery of the universe, he had his moments of consoling trust in the organised powers of the earth.
All was so still without and within that the lonely ticking of the clock on the landing stole into the room as if for the sake of company.
It is universally understood that, as if it were nothing more substantial than vapour floating in the sky, every emotion of a woman is bound to end in a shower.
A brief sail with Mr. Conrad would hopefully get him to discuss his life at sea, but what I’d love to uncover is his insight into the human spirit, so evident in The Secret Agent.
My rating for The Secret Agent is an 8 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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