It was the 14th of January when I started reading this book, The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad. I finished it on the 12th of October. And I was reading the whole while. Just not a lot at a time. Which turned out to be a fine way to read this particular story, which moves slowly. And it gave me time to read and re-read carefully some of the language, which always amazes me when I read Conrad. English was not his first language. I was going to say his native language, but he really did make himself at home in English.
The story takes place in 1886 and is about a man who runs a small shop on a side street in London selling pornography and contraceptives, both illegal. Living behind the shop is Verloc, the secret agent, Winnie, his wife, and Stevie, Winnie's mentally retarded brother to whom she is devoted. Winnie's mother also lives with them, but she moves out to an old folks home in the middle of the story.
Verloc is working as a secret agent for a foreign embassy, probably Russia. And he has three friends who are anarchists with whom he spends a lot of time. Between them they cook up a plan to blow up Greenwich Observatory. They decide to send Stevie there with explosives because he will not be suspected of anything nefarious. Things go wrong and at the end of the story Mrs Verloc becomes infuriated with her husband, the police are on to them, and things begin to deteriorate quickly.
The Secret Agent is based on an 1884 attempt by anarchist to bomb the Greenwich Observatory. But that is only the background story which Conrad has used for his own purposes in this subtle and very modern novel about terrorism. It was published in 1907. The beautifully designed original dust jacket is pictured below.