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Summary

Exclusively from Audible

The Secret Agent is based on an actual attempt made in 1894 to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. A labyrinth of greed, corruption, and betrayal, it is the most darkly humorous of all Conrad's tales.

It follows a European secret agent, Adolf Verloc, 'a London shop owner' with anarchist leanings who becomes reluctantly involved in a plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory. Full of great characters, melodramatic irony and psychological intrigue the tale is far from simple, involving politicians, policemen, foreign diplomats and London's fashionable society.

This classic was written at a time when terrorist activity was increasing. Due to its themes of anarchism, espionage, and terrorism, the book still retains great interest from its audience and was regularly cited by the American media after the September 11 attacks. The New York Times described it as acquiring 'a kind of cult status as the classic novel for the post-9/11 age.'

Though the story did not attain popularity during Conrad's lifetime it is still considered to be one of his finest novels.

Narrator Biography

Having studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, David Horovitch has had a television career spanning over 40 years. One of his most notable roles was in 1984 as Detective Inspector Slack in the first BBC Miss Marple adaptation The Body in the Library. Due to the success of his character, he returned for four Christmas specials. He has had roles in other shows such as Just William (1994), Foyle’s War (2002) and Wire in the Blood (2005) as well as film appearances in The Young Victoria (2009), 102 Dalmatians (2000), The Infiltrator (2016) and Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner (2014). A long time star of the stage, in 2015 he played the role of George Frideric Handel in All the Angels by Nick Drake at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as narrating numerous audiobooks David Horovitch narrated Audible’s multicast drama The Oedipus Plays.

Public Domain (P)2014 Audible, Inc.

What members say

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Steven
  • EdinburghUnited Kingdom
  • 25-08-16

Faulty product

Joseph Conrad's darkly humorous fictionalisation of a real-life attempt to blow up the Greenwich Observatory is a classic and excellently narrated by David Threlfall. Unfortunately the product itself was faulty, with chapter 4 missing and playing chapter 13 in its place. Audible admitted the fault and refunded my credit without any quibbling. I'm therefore surprised to find that the book hasn't been withdrawn from sale as I was assured that I would be alerted once the fault was corrected.

44 of 46 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The Secret Agent

I really loved this. Tried to read this book, but my dyslexia got the better of me. Listened to this and was very impressed by the quality of the narration.

It is rightly a classic!

15 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

The story of a reluctant spy and a tragic plot

Joseph Conrad continues to write about the dark side of humanity, similar to his other work the Heart of Darkness. The book reads like two separate tales - that of the Verloc family and that of the anarchists.

Set in bleak Victorian London, the novel follows the life of Mr. Verloc, a secret agent, who also is a married businessman on the side selling inappropriate bric-a-brac. His friends are a group of anarchists of which three people are most prominent. Although largely ineffectual as terrorists, they are well known to the police. Verloc is also secretly employed by the Embassy as an agent provocateur. And here it all falls apart.

The more intriguing part of the book surrounds the family, especially his wife Winnie who essentially behaves like a timid matriarch before becoming distraught over the thought of being hanged. Stevie, Winnie's brother who has a mental disability, is treated more like a son than a sibling. And when he encounters tragedy, Winnie changes into a completely different person.

At times, the political aspect can be long-winded, but it ends in a major climax so it's worth getting to the end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • MRM
  • Scotland
  • 23-05-18

Quite a slog but the narrator does his best.

At times, painful to listen to, I only continued all the way through because it was relatively short. I was expecting more from Joseph Conrad.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • TJ
  • 27-04-18

avoid

What disappointed you about The Secret Agent?

Having finished the book I found it a struggle to get through.
Reading the reviews afterwards I suspect some of the chapters were played out of order because time lines were very hard to follow.

Hard to know because none of the chapters are spoken during the performance.

Would you be willing to try another one of David Threlfall’s performances?

yes

Any additional comments?

avoid.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Slow start, but very rewarding.

Appeared to be labouring to get going initially, but it was written when readers expected the author to paint the story on a large canvas, and this is a fine picture. The story rapidly be comes compulsive. The story told, is as true today as it was for the period and place it is set in.

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Edward Ogden
  • 23-11-10

Languid & loquacious language

Wonderfully detailed occasionally to the point of tedium. The use of language is exquisite and the underlying story line is sound, but there is so much detail that some listeners may get lost. The story is deeply evocative of London at the turn of the 19th century. The narration is nothing short of brilliant. In spite of the long and complex sentence structures, David Threlfall brings the characters to life and avoids making the story awkward, no matter how stilted the dialogue to the conteporary ear.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Phil
  • 23-01-09

Tedious Listen

The details and descriptions are very good. However the story gets lost in the minutiae. This book needs your undivided attention, ok for the plane if you are not the pilot, not good for the driver when commuting. It wasn't what I expected; I've struggled my way through it. Nine hours and thirty minutes lost.

2 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Lester Jacobs
  • 30-12-08

boring

I simply could not get into this book. 5 dropped it after 2 hrs.

0 of 5 people found this review helpful