Review: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

I’ve been slacking quite a bit on the reading aspect of my 50 year challenge. I started the year off well and then hit a wall. Part of the problem was I started reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It turned out to be the wrong book. I read at night to unwind and Walden is not the type of book that helps me unwind. Usually I hate to set a book aside, especially when I like it, but I needed to since I wasn’t reading for this challenge.

I picked up The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. I hadn’t heard of this novel before moving to London and last year when I was in a bookshop in Bath I stumbled upon a decent used copy so I purchased it. This novel is about Mr. Verloc, who is a secret agent. Mr. Verloc’s employers want him to make a statement by destroying a building. The secret agent sets out to blow up the Greenwich Observatory and everything goes wrong. Drastically wrong.

When the novel was first released in 1907, the action in the story takes place in 1886, it didn’t fare too well. In fact, during Conrad’s lifetime the sales picked up some, but not a whole lot. Today many think The Secret Agent is one of his best novels.

Personally I can see why it didn’t sell all that well when it was first released. For me the issue is that Conrad understands human nature. There’s a reason why I hate watching the news since each evening there are stories about how humans can be so deplorable. This novel demonstrates this. Conrad wrote at a time when terrorism was on the rise and maybe the public wasn’t ready for such an honest portrayal of terrorism and anarchism. Today terrorism is such a constant in our lives, however it doesn’t make the subject matter easier.

This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the novel. I did on a certain level. It’s the type of work that really makes you stop and think. It also made me cringe. I didn’t like many of the characters in the novel and I’m pretty sure we aren’t meant to like them. And the descriptions of life in London are difficult to read.

I noticed on Wikipedia that Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was a huge fan of Conrad’s novel. He identified with the Professor, who is an anarchist who specializes in explosives. Kaczynski asked his family to read The Secret Agent so they could understand him. After his arrest the FBI learned that Kaczynski actually used Conrad, including different variations, as an alias.

Would I recommend this novel to others? Yes and no. It’s a difficult novel to read due to the subject matter. However, it is insightful. It’s hard to avoid all things that are ugly and maybe we shouldn’t. This novel is referred to a lot and if you’re curious to know why, then I say give it a go.

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Wooohooo! A four day weekend!

Happy Friday! I know technically it isn’t Friday, but we have a four-day weekend starting tomorrow. Initially we wanted to go out of town for the Easter holiday and many of you offered suggestions of places we should go. However, life conspired against us and we’re staying in London, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

Last weekend we had a great sports weekend. On Sunday we made our way to the Walkabout near the Temple tube stop to watch some of the London marathon. This joint is a massive Australian bar that caters to sports. We sat inside and watched the progress of the race and then hopped outside to cheer on the runners. We had to take turns since we didn’t want to give up our table.

Then we stayed to watch the Liverpool v. Man City game. We’re Liverpool fans and currently Liverpool is at the top of the table. I was mighty nervous about the game last Sunday. Man City is a tough team to beat and lately they’ve been on fire. It was fun watching this match with a large group. When Liverpool scored the winning goal late in the second half everyone cheered.

I want to wish all of you who celebrate a Happy Easter. I won’t be on the computer much, if at all, over the next four days. See ya Tuesday!

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Travel Memories: Relaxation

I hope all of you had a wonderful week. I’ve been feeling super lazy lately, hence this post. I’m not sure what our weekend plans are yet, but I have a feeling I won’t be too inspired to do much. Have a fantastic weekend and if you get a chance, relax a little.

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The Old Thameside Pub

This past Saturday we had beautiful weather, which put me in the mood to wander along the Thames. Wandering makes me thirsty. We’ve been by this pub, The Old Thameside, on many occasions but never stopped for a drink.

Not every pub has its own superhero!

Not every pub has its own superhero!

Luckily we found a group leaving a table and I moved in quickly. This pub is always crowded. It’s near London Bridge and not too far away is Borough Market and Clink prison. I love that name: Clink. Right behind the pub is the remains of Winchester Palace and next to the pub is a replica of The Golden Hind. The original belonged to Sir Francis Drake. The pub used to be an old spice warehouse.

A horrible shot of the Golden Hind

A horrible shot of the Golden Hind

Some of you may not care about the history. Here are the views and I should note I was too lazy to stand for better photos.

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And for others, the beer was plentiful. They had a wide selection of real ales. I had two half pints. The first was called Ice Breaker. It was okay, but a bit too hoppy for me. The second, No. 8 Cherry Pale was wonderful. I would have that one again. I’d probably pass on Ice Breaker, however, I’m glad I tried it.

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We didn’t eat there, unless you count sharing a small bowl of pistachios. In case you ever go to the pub with me, here’s a warning. I may slap your hand away from the nuts. Just ask The Better Half. After an hour, the temperature dropped a little so we sought out a different pub. Check back next week.

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If you can handle crowds, this pub is worth a visit. So if you find yourself near the Clink (hopefully not in it) hop on in. On a warm day, the view is great.

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Movie Review: American Graffiti

American Graffiti, released in 1973, is a coming of age film. I was surprised that George Lucas was the director and co-writer. I associate him with Star Wars, not coming of age. Well maybe coming of age, but in space. I’m learning from my movie project that I don’t know a whole lot about the movie business. Now I’m paying attention to directors, producers, and writers and not just with movies on this list. Only time will tell if I learn anything.

This film includes so many talented actors at a young age. The cast includes: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, and Suzanne Somers has a small role. In case you missed her, she’s the blond in the T-bird.

I read that the film only cost $775,000 to make (that doesn’t sound cheap to me) but when it was released it was a hit and has made more than $200 million. Now that’s a profit! It didn’t happen overnight, but still impressive.

Its set in Modesto, California in 1962 and it’s about a culture I really know nothing about. During my teen years, I didn’t cruise my town and listen to rock and roll. Some of you may wonder what I did do. To be honest, I was a quiet teen. I read a lot and watched movies.

There are several stories occurring in the film. It’s more like short character studies that come together in the end—mostly. It starts off slow and stays that way for most of the film. There’s some tension, a little action, but it still comes across subtly.

At first I wasn’t sure what to think of the film. Like I said, I couldn’t relate to the culture. I grew up in the 80s. But I love characters and this film has many of them. Once I got past the whole, “What’s this about? They just keep driving up and down the road” feeling, I settled into the movie.

What did the boys think:

I'm so bored

I’m so bored

Indiana Jones looks so young!

Indiana Jones looks so young!

It was nominated for Best Picture, but The Sting won, which isn’t on my top 100 list. As for me, I give it a thumbs up. If you watch it, be patient. It sucks you in slowly.

Up next: Sullivan’s Travels. I’m having issues tracking down a copy.

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Travel Memories: All Creatures are Beautiful

Recently I met a woman in a pub and we started talking about pets. I mentioned my dog, Miles, and she asked to see a photo. I showed her one on my cell phone and she instantly scrunched her face in disgust and then said, “Sorry, I only like dogs with soft hair and floppy ears.” This made me laugh. For those of you who haven’t seen a photo of Miles, this is what he looks like

Happy Miles

I think he’s adorable. The woman’s comment made me think about all the creatures I’ve seen on my travels that may not get the love and attention they deserve since they aren’t soft and cuddling looking. Personally, I think all creatures, no matter how odd, are wonderful. Here are some examples from our time in Malaysia. Have a great weekend!

 

 

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A Much Needed Day Out

Normally I post a pub review on Fridays, but many of you know I’ve been avoiding pubs so I can meet some work deadlines. That doesn’t mean I’ve been skipping all types of fun. I would go insane if I did. Earlier this week I shared some photos from our walk to Craven Cottage last Saturday. We watched Fulham v Newcastle. Fulham shocked us by winning. For those who don’t follow the English Premier League, Fulham is in last place. They need to win most if not all of their remaining matches to avoid relegation. We hope they do since their stadium isn’t too far from us and it’s a great place to watch a match. The Cottage is quite small and has a wonderful atmosphere. We’ve been three times and have enjoyed it each time. And to be able to be so close to the action—that’s just awesome. Here are some photos from last week’s match. Hopefully I’ll wrap up a major project soon and I can resume my pub reviews. Have a great weekend everyone. And watch out for flying balls. Don’t know what I’m talking about—see photo below.

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A Day out in Fulham

Many of you know I had several deadlines hanging over my head over the past few weeks and I even skipped going to pubs so meet them. This past weekend I was free and clear. And the weather behaved. Here are some shots I took whilst in Fulham for a football match at Craven Cottage. The stadium is near Bishops Park. Our walk along the Thames was beautiful and it was wonderful to see the sun. I hope to share some of the photos I snapped during the match later this week. Right now, I have more deadlines that have to be met. At least the deadlines keep me out of trouble.

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Travel Memories: Random Photos

When I was in college, at the end of each semester my mind and body would hold out until I finished my last final. Then I would come down with a nasty cold or flu. Last week I mentioned I had a few deadlines that I had to work on. Well I met them and the very next day I realized I had a cold. Pushing the body has drawbacks. I’m not sick enough to crawl into bed for a few days, however, I’m not fully functioning either. My head feels fuzzy and when I tried to think of a theme for my travel photos this week I couldn’t concentrate. So here are some random photos I selected from my media library. Scroll over for a brief description. They are very random, but they all made me smile.

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What’s that in the sky?

Hello folks! I wanted to check in and say hi. This week I’ve been slammed with some deadlines so I didn’t have a chance to write any reviews or visit any pubs (this will shock some). While I’ve been hammering on my keyboard, the boys have been in the garden enjoying the sun. Many of you know that England had quite a bit of rain over the past couple of months. When it wasn’t raining, the wind was howling. Miles and Att spent way too many days inside. Trust me, they grumbled quite a bit about it. Finally there’s been a change in the weather. That yellow thing in the sky has been spotted several times this week and my sun-worshipping boys have enjoyed every second. Hopefully I’ll finish up my tasks by Sunday and can return to blogging next week. I miss hanging out with all of you. Have a wonderful week and I hope some sunny days.

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