What's Alan Beith MP's desert island read?

Written by Alan Beith MP on 11 September 2013 in Culture
The Lib Dem MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed on why he loves The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

This article is from the August 2013 issue of Total Politics

I assume that, as in Desert Island Discs, The Bible and Shakespeare are already waiting under the palm trees. It is an important assumption, because I am a genuine enthusiast for reading The Bible but it frees me to choose The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. 

The first reason is sheer admiration for the English writing style of someone whose first language was Polish and whose second language was French. Indeed, he knew only a few words of English when he arrived in this country at the age of 20, and throughout his life he spoke with a strong Polish Accent. How on earth did he manage to write English of such quality? Secondly, I admire the way he strips away the romance which is sometimes attached to extremist violence, and shows it for what it usually is, the product of a dysfunctional, disturbed and miserable life. 

How did he know that? Conrad could write about the rough life of a merchant seaman because he had lived it; he could write about the pillaging of the Belgian Congo, as he did vividly in Heart of Darkness, because he had seen it for himself. The Secret Agent explores the murky world of an informer and anarchist brilliantly and, like several of Conrad’s novels, it feels as if it is about today’s events not those of a hundred years ago.

Tags: Issue 61, Life, My old book

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