Canongate, £16.99, 323pp. £15.29 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Accident, By Ismail Kadare, trans. John Hodgson

Ismail Kadare is a novelist of the grand manner who sees himself in a line from Shakespeare and Dante, and a modernist fabulist who by allegory and metaphor has nimbly laid bare the ironies and idiocies of recent Balkan experience. His belief that the best jokes are the old ones – cruelty, jealousy, selfishness, intolerance – place him in a long line of European satirists. Because of where he comes from, satire may flip into tragedy. "Everywhere in the world events flow noisily, while their deep currents pull silently," he writes in his new novel, "but nowhere is this contrast so striking as in the Balkans."

The Accident takes a familiar Kadare motif, the impossibility of relationships, and hitches it to an allegory of the one recent Balkan conflict in which the rest of Europe involved itself, the war in Kosovo. At the novel's opening its two Albanian protagonists, an analyst at the Council of Europe, Besfort Y., and Rovena, an intern at the Vienna Archaeological Institute, are in a taxi on their way to Vienna airport.

Without warning the cab swerves off the autobahn, hurling both passengers out. The investigation of their deaths passes through many hands, including the Serbian and Albanian security services. The injured driver can offer no reason, except that his taxi flipped out at the exact moment when he looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the couple "trying to kiss".

This phrase, and the effortful fatal embrace it describes, dominate the investigation, eventually taken over by an "unknown researcher" whom we may suspect to have something in common with the novelist. The researcher is more diligent than the security services. The picture of the lovers' 12-year affair, conducted across Europe to the mantra of hotel names – Loreley, Schlosshotel-Lerbach, Excelsior Ernst – is tangled, stressed by time and geography, and banal, accessorised by the thin glamour of five-star bedrooms, lingerie and late-night conversations. Kadare's stern loquacity, well captured in John Hodgson's translation, does the erotic and emotional components of the story full justice, and neatly nails both the lovers' inability to commit and modernity's particular gift to human relationships. Well-heeled homelessness is still homelessness: "It seemed that nobody believed in love any more."

The affair reverberates with echoes of political conflict. Kadare invites the reader to play a game about how far to take his allegory of the lovers and Serbia-Kosovo. What should we read into the revelation that a few years into their relationship the couple were "trying to cover up their love for each other by pretending to be whore and client"?

There is a true, and intentional, confusion at the heart of this novel, it seems; as there is unknowability at the heart of all relationships and political alliances. Kadare's compelling gift is that, hallucinatory, baffling, even irritating at first, The Accident cannot be put aside, but richly teases the reader to try to understand more of the meaning of what, exactly, the cab driver glimpsed in his rear-view mirror.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering