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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor