Been quite a while since I’ve read any Conrad. In fact, I started this back in about 2006 but never finished it. This time, I listened to it on Librivox and let someone else do the hard work for me.
Important book because of the century that followed when it was written. At the time it was published, organized groups of anarchists/terrorists were just getting started. To capture this moment in novel form makes this a much more important book now than when it was first written. That’s a sign of a great writer.
Verloc is a spy who uses a dubious bookshop as cover. Involved in a plot to bomb a London landmark, things don’t quite go as planned when the bomb goes off early. The aftermath forms the majority of the novel which, being fairly short, skipped along for me.
The characters are interesting and worth a longer reading which I don’t have time for at the moment. Verloc himself is a bit of an enigma. Being the central character and a victim of his own circumstances to a certain extent, you can’t help but sympathise with him. But you know you shouldn’t and should despise him for what he’s doing. Conrad is clever in that you never really know too much about why Verloc does what he does. In this way, you can’t really take sides on the basis of any political ideology. This is a very personal view of terrorism and one which we definitely do not get in our media today.
Not that I’m saying terrorism is justified. However, I do think that this novel raises the question though of what we are doing in terms of making an effort to engage with and understand the people behind the atrocities. Having said that, it is as difficult a question now as it was for Conrad’s readers 100 years ago. And that makes this a novel worthy of being kept on the 1001 books list.
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