The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

“Mr. Verloc, getting off the sofa with ponderous reluctance, opened the door leading into the kitchen to get more air, and thus disclosed the innocent Stevie, seated very good and quiet at a deal table, drawing circles, circles; innumerable circles, concentric, eccentric; a coruscating whirl of circles that by their tangled multitude of repeated curves, uniformity of form and confusion of intersecting lines suggested a rendering of cosmic chaos, the symbolism of a mad art attempting the inconceivable.”

This is a quote of the novel The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad published in 1907. A book that is loosely based on probably the first terroristic incident in Britain. In 1894 a French anarchist attempted to destroy the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London, but the bomb exploded before he reached the building and he blew himself up.

Terrorism also is the major theme of the story. The main person of the novel is Mr. Verloc. He works in a shop, which sells pornographic material and he lives in a house behind the shop with his wife Winnie, his mother-in-law and Stevie ,his brother-in-law, who has a mental disability. However he leads a double life and also is a secret agent for the embassy of an unmentioned country. This embassy wants him to destroy the Royal Greenwich Observatory with a bomb. But in contrast to the real bombing in 1894, it is not Mr. Verloc who was blown up by the bomb, it was someone else.

During the book you slowly discover who is that man that was blown up by the bomb. And because of Conrad has manipulated the chronology of the book, you are allowed to comprehend the outcome before the characters in the book do. That makes it a very nice book, but some people criticize that Conrad has changed the chronology. Patrick Reilly says about the book that it is “a terrorist text as well a text about terrorism’.

The theme gives the impression that the book is very exciting and when you read the title you probably think that the story is about someone like James Bond, but it is not. That does not mean that it is not a good book, far from it, but the book differs from what you expect to read when you start reading. Conrad uses a lot of difficult words and extensive descriptions like you have seen in the quote. The complex sentences and the unusual chronology of the story makes it a difficult book for the inexperienced reader. So it is not recommend to beginners to start reading this book, but only to advanced readers.


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