This is a kind of funny novel. The tone is variable throughout — sometimes almost sarcastic and cynical, and other times more serious. The plot of this novel, as you can almost imagine, is about a secret agent. But this is 1907, and well, there’s not a whole lot of wars or cold wars going on. So the secret agenting that is going on is bent on anarchy and disruption of old regimes more than through the specific aims of spycraft and evangelical governmental policy. It’s espionage is an almost purer version of things.
We meet Verloc, a store owner, and as it turns out agent provocateur in the anarchist movement. In the opening scenes, we see him living his regular old life as a store owner and husband, when he is visited by a higher up in his political movement. He is absolutely lambasted by this official for his rotund body and domestic choices. He was supposed to be married and he hasn’t done enough to disrupt to satisfy this official. So he’s tasked with blowing up a concert hall, a symbol of modern progress that would still have the impact to shock and horrify otherwise blase citizens.
The novel ends up being more of a metaphorical take on what it means to be a citizen and person in the world. It’s also an almost satirical look at domestic life, in which men’s minds and spirits are forever closed off to their family, their wives, and the bosses. It’s a strange novel and not an “exciting” one, but I did enjoy it.