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The Secret Agent

Narrated by: David Horovitch
Length: 11 hrs and 8 mins
4 out of 5 stars (33 ratings)

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Summary

Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent is a tale of anarchism, espionage, and terrorism. Our agent, a man named Mr Verloc, minds his own business while he keeps his shop in London's Soho, alongside his wife, who attends to her aged mother and disabled brother. Their lives are turned upside down when Verloc is reluctantly employed to plant a bomb and destroy an observatory in London. What was once the perfect bomb plot inevitably turns awry and Verloc, his family and his associates are forced to face the consequences. Conrad's later political novel bears all the hallmarks of his captivating style.

The Secret Agent brims with melodious and poetic language, alongside crystal-clear psychological insights that could only be the work of a uniquely gifted storyteller.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

Public Domain (P)2014 Naxos AudioBooks

Critic reviews

"[David Horovitch's] warm, rich tone and English accent are a pleasure to hear. And once the action kicks in, his characterizations of gravel-voiced Eastern-European wanna-be terrorists, plummy government officials, and put-upon London shopkeepers illuminate the points that Conrad is making and add to the drama. This is an excellent and timely reissue of a profound novel." (AudioFile)

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A different kind of Conrad.

Meant to read this for ages. Conrad captures the semi- comic world of bungling spies and the absurdity and hypocrisy of anarchism in late 19th century London. . It is a tragic tale with a macabre edge. No character comes out well, not even the all-sacrificing Winnie Verloc. Well worth the time it took to listen to it. David Horovitch is an excellent narrator, Conrad one of our greatest writers.

3 people found this helpful

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  • John
  • 08-07-15

Loved Every Syllable. Just Don't Know Why.

How could I get so much enjoyment out of a book filled with so much futility, wasted energy and pointless action?

Perhaps because the futility is the futility of anarchists and terrorists. Because I see, especially in the character of the professor and his towering contempt for humanity, a template for the disastrous 20th Century that was a mere seven years old when this novel was published.

No, that’s not it, either. Or at least not all of it.

On the surface, this is the kind of book I usually don’t like. Or perhaps it just looked like the kind of book I wouldn’t like. In spite of the intriguing title, the name of the author promised an introspective, Marlow-esque journey through the subtle undercurrents of the psyche. An anatomical critique of European Imperialism. (If you’re guessing that I’m really only familiar with Heart of Darkness, you’re right.) Warned off of Conrad’s Nostromo by online reviewers who found it too complex, I only really bought Secret Agent because Audible put it up as a Daily Deal. And I am very glad I did. But like I said, I'm just not quite sure why.

Instead of introspection, things actually happen here: an bomb explosion, an accidental murder, an intentional murder, even a suicide. Yes, Conrad pulls the same stunts with chronology that caused those reviewers so much pain with Nostromo. But he only does it once and I just took it in my stride (which makes me think I should have grabbed Nostromo when it was on sale, too).

And there’s more: Conrad displays his usual powers here, as both a teller of tales and a spinner of sentences. He doesn’t just give you insights into our common humanity; he gives them in words you want to memorize. His evocation of a cold London street is, in and of itself, worth the price of admission. And those powers are in the service of a plot full of intrigue, double dealing, hidden motives, bad intentions that somehow never lead to anything and good intentions gone terribly wrong.

And, for all its darkness and misdirection, I extracted a sort of wry, dry humor from the book, too. Which I can’t explain, so please don’t ask.

Finally, our narrator David Horovitch deserves the highest marks for elocution, characterization, pacing, in fact in everything that makes a superb reader superb.

4 people found this helpful

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  • John Burrus
  • 12-02-15

Worthwhile

The plot is only so-so, but the writing and narration are superb. Prose does not get much closer to poetry than some of the passages in this book. The narrator should do many more. He would be great at any of Dickens' works.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Lorna Boyd
  • 04-06-15

Beautiful verbiage, boring story

I almost quit after 2 hrs, but plugged on, finally getting interested in the last 2 hrs. the writing is so well-done, many phrases made me smile, but,...ughh. what a drag. maybe some abridging is called for.

2 people found this helpful

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  • CHET YARBROUGH
  • 26-02-15

CODA FOR MURDER

The uni-bomber, Ted Kaczynski is said to have read "The Secret Agent" as a coda for his decision to murder and maim innocents. Kaczynski’s craziness and the atrocity of 9/11 are most often referred to in modern reviews of The Secret Agent.

"The Secret Agent" is about a middle-aged, over weight secret service agent named Adolph Verloc. Verloc lives in England and is a spy for an unnamed country. Verloc is called into his employer country’s Embassy to tell him that he is going to be fired unless he provides some actionable service for his pay. Verloc is upset with the news because he is dependent on the income received from the foreign country.

Conrad offers some insight to a terrorist’s demented beliefs. The consequence of a terrorist event is the devastation of those left behind. However, the tale is too long; mystery, revelation, insight too meager, and characters too stereotypical. "The Secret Agent" is only marginally interesting because of Horovitch’s narration.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Essence45
  • 27-07-19

A masterful performance

This, quite simply, is a superb, masterful performance of an underrated masterpiece. I wish all books were read like this.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Joange
  • 12-02-15

Boring

The narrator does a fine job and I thought initially this would be an interesting listen. It's just too hard to follow. Maybe I haven't paid close enough attention. Still, I felt lost as I went from chapter to chapter. Just not enough substance to hold my interest.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Christine L. Frederick
  • 10-02-15

Just getting started & might not make it through

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator's portrayal of the main character and some of the minor characters sounded like the muppet show. It was so distracting, I had trouble understanding what he was saying.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

While some of the story dragged on and on, the language and phrasing was descriptive.

Any additional comments?

Going to trudge through, rather than returning...hopefully things will pick up.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Cherie L Ramsdell
  • 20-02-15

I should have read the description more carefully

Would you try another book from Joseph Conrad and/or David Horovitch?

No. I thought that the title would lead me to a more fast pace book. I got bogged down in all the commentary. Not at all what I expected.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Aaron
  • 11-02-15

Life is too short to endure a bad novel

Perhaps it is the difference in times and cultures, but this book moves at a snail's pace, and the plot remains unclear after several hours.

As an avid listener to espionage novels, and classic lit.,... this one is a dud.

*It doesn't help that the narrator sounds like Yoda when performing the main character.

8 people found this helpful

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  • David
  • 05-05-20

The Making of a Unabomber

When Joseph Conrad published The Secret Agent, terrorism was a rare and abstract concept, rarely executed. When realesed, it introduced a subject few in his time wanted to understand.

Set in 1881 London, the story focuses on Mr. Verloc, a Londonized anarchist long in the employ of a European power as a spy thought to be Imperial Russia.

London wass a haven of European radicals where Marxism, Socialism and anarchistic thought are creating great fear throughout the monarchical continent.

Verloc has enjoyed years of easy employment as a spy for the Embassy. But the new power within the Embassy want action for their years of faithful payment. They didn't hire him just to spy. They pay him to bring chaos. They paid him to bomb.

The basis of the story was rooted in an actual bombing at the Greenwich Observatory and a revelation into the espionage and intrigue afoot in the capitals of Europe in the years between the Crimean War and World War I.

Not initially well received due to its dark subject matter, the Secret Agent became a critically acclaimed classic and is often credited as launching a genre.

The work went relatively unnoticed for decades until 9/11 when terrorism became a very real matter of horror to a global audience. Likewise, when finally captured, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski revealed how much of a fan he was of the novel, having read it dozens of times.

It's a dark story come to life at the threshold of the 20th Century and a century of global war and terror. Conrad was ahead of his time in seeing the darkness to come.