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Publisher's 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 listeners say about The Secret Agent

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

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.

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Conrad's Darkest Novel

At the end, I was speechless with horror at the darkness of Contad's view of human nature.


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Brilliant performance of a classic

Joseph Conrad, a native of Poland, has been called one of the greatest writers in the English language. I read The Secret Agent half a century ago and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the story in this brilliant Audible episode.
David Hirt. Santa Barbara.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

The world as anti-hero

I love Conrad, I rate "The Heart of Darkness" as his ultimate work, at lest on Audible, for the sense of looming disaster and the oppressive feeling of the world getting darker and darker. This story doesn't chill me until the ending.You think he gives away the ending early in the narrative, but that's the surprise. The darkness in the book is Conrad's view of society, the grim outlook on all levels; the revolutionaries, the police, and the government officials. That is why I link it to Hear of Darkness. This is a theme Conrad comes back to frequently in later works, especially in "Under Western Eyes." Our political world is the "anti-hero" protagonist here. I kept expecting to find a redeemable character, and of course there wasn't one, kind of the point! The narrative is filled with subtle cynicisms, perhaps there could have been more to sustain my interest. There are several sudden cuts to different characters and scenes, a technique I've read attributed to Hemingway, that I wasn't aware of in earlier works by this author. I think my three star rating for the story is due to the slow pace of plot development. Needs an editor. The narration is dramatic and he uses different voices that are fun and illuminate the dialogue. It's worth listening to it to get to the shocking conclusion. The Secret Agent is is rated as one of the best novels of the 20th Century, no. 46 in the Modern Library list.

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The author never uses one word when 5 will do

Too verbose, an incomplete mess with no likable characters. I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint of heart:

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Great story, great narration

Very thought provoking and relevant. The narrator is also gifted- expressive when needed, cold when needed. The demands of this complex drama and the remarkable characters are fully met- thank you.

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Exceptional reading of a classic from master

The reader is just exceptional.
The text is a classic from one of the great masters.
That said, I got a bit bored. I hoped for a political novel centered around the question of anarchism but instead is centered around the characters of the book. Anarchism is just an excuse to tell a story of some tragic figures.

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

boring

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

1 person found this helpful

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  • Steven
  • 08-25-16

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.

55 people found this helpful

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  • TJ
  • 04-27-18

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.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-05-10

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!

16 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Alasdair
  • 07-06-20

Amazing book brilliantly read

I'd have given this ten stars if that had been an option. David Threlfall brought this to life

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-01-19

Conrad's dark masterpiece finds its perfect reader

If all you know of David Threlfall is Frank Gallagher from Shameless, you may be surprised by this performance of what is arguably Conrad's masterpiece. There's a quietness about this reading, a thoughtful, untheatrical performance which allows Conrad's words their full force, shifting from brutal naturalism to impressionism and, apparently accidentally, anticipating many techniques used decades later in film. If you are uncertain whether you could get on with Audiobooks, try this one first.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Sue
  • 11-01-17

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 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • NICK
  • 02-28-22

Great Author…

… but it’s heavy-going. Conrad tends to dwell over-long on scenes, whether a description of an early morning in London, or the protracted Embassy interview. A novel with a title like The Secret Agent needs to skip along much more lightly.
I lost interest and gave up!

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • M Rowlands
  • 09-15-21

My first Joseph Conrad read

Narration by David Threlfall is excellent but I was a tad disappointed with the book. I was expecting a spy story from the title but found it wasn't really that. It entertained and gripped best in its final 20%, but it was at times a bit tedious in getting there. Much padded descriptive text. Would have lost little by being half the length.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Probity
  • 01-10-21

Tedious

There really isn’t much of a story. The best thing about this book is that it’s not very long. It beats me why this is considered a classic.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • nought
  • 09-12-19

Nostalgia

Have read this a few times over the years
And have now thoroughly enjoyed it being
Read to me by a very good narrator thank you audible

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-25-19

Conrad disappoints

After Conrad’s Nostromo,one of the truly great books,this strange tale is disappointing. It is written in fine words and narrated in fine manner but leaves you uncomfortable that such a great writer had written such a book.