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Secret Agent, The; A Simple Tale
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Thoroughly ironic and even sarcastic, this early, atypical Conrad novel is an ultimately tragic, comedy of errors spy story, which challenges the oral interpreter to set the right tone. Lean too heavily on the Dickensian caricatures and the tale seems a tastelessly cruel joke. Go too far the other way and you miss the point, as well as the humor. In a laconic narration, Alex Jennings renders the abridgment slyly and gives excellent impersonations of the characters. However, the recording still misses something essential in the book's personality. Y.R. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine
In The Secret Agent (1907) a triangle of conspiracy is built, then destroyed, by the self-interest of its participants. Mr. Verloc, employed by a foreign embassy to incriminate an anarchist group, instead destroys his family, his illusions, and his own life in a terrorist act gone utterly wrong. Conrad's ironic and troubling novel exposes political extremism and the strength-and vanity-of illusion.
Set in late-nineteenth-century London, Joseph Conrad's intense political thriller anticipates the espionage novels of such writers as Graham Greene and John le Carré. It concerns a double agent who is charged with provoking the radical group he has infiltrated into an act of sabotage that will bring about its own destruction. In a marvelously drawn underworld of political and criminal intrigue, Conrad brilliantly explores the confused motives that lie at the heart of terrorism. Extraor-dinarily modern in the ironic view it takes of human affairs, this masterly tale of conspiracy builds to a climax that the critic F. R. Leavis called "one of the most astonishing triumphs of genius in fiction."
The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
(in full The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale) Novel by Joseph Conrad, first published serially in the New York weekly Ridgeway's in 1906-07 and in book form in 1907. This absurdist story is noted for its adept characterizations, melodramatic irony, and psychological intrigue. Adolf Verloc is a languid eastern European secret agent posing as a London shop owner with anarchist leanings who is ordered to dynamite Greenwich Observatory. The plot fails when Verloc's mentally retarded brother-in-law is accidently killed by the explosives. Verloc's wife Winnie murders Verloc in a fit of rage. She commits suicide after she is betrayed by Ossipon, one of her husband's anarchist associates.
From the Publisher
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Inside Flap Copy
The Secret Agent is the unsurpassed ancestor of a long series of twentieth-century novels and
films which explore the confused motives that lie at the heart of political terrorism. In its use of powerful psychological insight to intensify narrative suspense, it set the terms by which subsequent works in its genre were created. Conrad was the first novelist to discover the strange in-between territory of the political exile, and his genius was such that we still have no truer map of that region's moral terrain than his story of a terrorist plot and its tragic consequences for the guilty and innocent alike.
Introduction by Paul Theroux
About the Author
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) grew up amid political unrest in Russian-occupied Poland. After twenty years at sea with the French and British merchant navies, he settled in England in 1894. Over the next three decades he revolutionized the English novel with works such as Typhoon (1902), Youth (1902), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), Under Western Eyes (1911), Chance (1913), and Victory (1915).
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