The Secret Agent is by far the most complex classic I read for this year. It is a classic which is conceptually modern. Built on the themes of espionage, double agents, government policies, politics, terrorism, and revolutionaries, it is a dark and tragic tale, and even brutal at times. In the heart of the story, is a secret agent, his double life, and his unsuspecting family. The whole story is knitted around them.
The story is presented in an episodic manner and each episode did keep the reader’s interest. However, this episodic structure at times produced confusion and hindered the understanding of the story as a whole.
The characters were cold and self-centered and didn’t interest me much, except perhaps the Chief Inspector and the Assistant commissioner of police. But even though I didn’t like them, I enjoyed the character descriptions and psychological portrayals marvelously done by the author. I especially enjoyed the character description and the psychological portrayal of the secret agent, Mr. Verloc. His mindset, the dangerous extent to which he was driven, his capacity to betray the trust so dearly placed on him, and his willingness to sacrifice anyone to achieve his own goals and to secure his pay role is brilliantly presented. And how his actions ultimately affected his wife, her devastation and the catastrophe that befell them too is truly and sincerely portrayed.
The story was a slow start and the read took more time than usual for a short classic. But what made me take the time and read it through to the end was Conrad’s excellent writing. It was clever and witty. This is my first read of Joseph Conrad. And perhaps, this is not the right book for me to begin with. But a glimpse into his writing is well worth my time and effort.