Review: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (3/5)

Title: The Secret Agent

Author: Joseph Conrad

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Espionage


Mr Verloc, the secret agent, is involved in an anarchist plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory that goes disastrously wrong. This new edition includes a critical introduction that describes Conrad’s London novel as the realization of a ‘monstrous town’, a place of idiocy, madness, criminality, and butchery.

This was my first Conrad novel. Somehow, I never had to read Heart of Darkness in high school, and now I know that I should thank some god of literature for that. The Secret Agent is not a bad book, but it’s certainly not my taste. The novel has a solid plot and characters. As I expected from a 1907 novel, there was a hefty amount of misogyny and racism in the novel. Time and time again, the characters remind you that women are not to be trusted and likely to be illogical harpies, and that it’s not a good sign if you have the “nose of a negro.”

The main female character in the book is Winnie, who is the wife of Verloc. She seems a bit of an asshole throughout most of the book, but after the climax, I came to like her quite a bit, even if Conrad was sure to make her more hysterical than she ought to be.

There’s nothing really spectacular about this novel. While it goes more in-depth regarding the motivations and plotting of the characters than I suspect other spy novels do, I never actually found myself caring for more than one, maybe two, and that is the heart of a novel for me. If I can’t care about your characters, I can’t care about your novel. And I did not care about the characters of The Secret Agent.

I really don’t have much else to say. Perhaps readers looking for an older and more global espionage novel would enjoy this, but it was not for me.

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