With apologies to Messrs. Conrad and Kurtz, this is the book for all of us who find it harder to read Heart of Darkness than Herodotus. Based on a real attack in London’s Greenwich Park in 1894, the novel follows Mr. Verloc and a group of anarchist terrorists as they plan a dynamite outrage in newly-industrialized 1886 London. The Secret Agent also details Verloc’s domestic life, complete with a younger wife, a mentally disabled brother-in-law, and a mother-in-law who wields guilt to greater effect than the terrorists’ explosives. Conrad’s Dickensian bent toward caricature lends this early narrative of modern terrorism, beloved by the Unabomber, some much-needed (though still undeniably dark) levity.
The Secret Agent—Joseph Conrad