An actual event, a bomb attack on Greenwich Observatory in 1894, provided the inspiration for The Secret Agent
. But Conrad offers more than a simple account of a bungled attempt at revolution. He provides an absorbing study of characters who disturb us as much as they enlist our sympathies. Mr Verloc, the secret agent of the title, who peddles shady wares; his anarchist friends, the ineffectual Michaelis, the philandering Comrade Ossipon, and the Professor, single-minded in his pursuit of the perfect detonator. Above all, it is the story of Verloc's wife, Winnie, and her journey from security to "utter desolation, madness, and despair".
A challenging and exciting story, rightly acknowledged as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature.
(P)1996 HarperCollins UK