CANONGATE £9.99 (207pp) (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
The Successor, by Ismail Kadare trans. David Bellos
Love, death and paranoia
Friday 27 January 2006
Having carried off the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, and said to be standing in a tradition going back to Homer, the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare - who does hail from the land of Homer - invites great expectations with his new novella. Though he now lives in Paris, The Successor speaks with chilling directness out of his experience under the paranoid regime of Enver Hoxha, who provided every family with its own concrete bunker and sealed his country off from the rest of the world for 40 years. Its events, Kadare writes in his foreword, "draw on the infinite well of human memory" and so "any resemblance between the characters and circumstances of this tale, and real people and events, is inevitable".
Mehmet Shehu was the politician expected to take over power when Hoxha relinquished the reins, but murder was widely suspected behind his alleged suicide in 1981. He is the model for Kadare's "Successor", while Hoxha is represented by a figure known as the "Guide". Tirana's sinister, pot-holed grandeur provides the location; slate-grey skies reinforce an atmosphere of gloom.
The Successor has died by a bullet in the small hours of the morning, while his family slept undisturbed: an autopsy is ordered, and the house examined to see how an assassin might have entered and escaped. Had the Successor fallen from favour? Had his daughter's rash engagement to a boy with a bourgeois taint sealed his fate with the Guide? Was he due to be "pardoned"?
The doctor charged with doing the autopsy fatalistically assumes this task will result in his own liquidation; the architect who built the house is petrified by the discovery of an illicit feature which he did not install. As Kadare observes, the "architecture of terror" inculcated in Albanian citizens' hearts leads to total paralysis of the will. Nothing "happens" in this fable, which comes to resemble Kurosawa's Rashomon as it approaches its denouement, but we are gripped every step of the way.
It also recalls Kafka: in the brisk and hallucinatory narrative tone, and in the pervasive obsession with reading the signs - does a twitch of the Guide's eyebrow indicate a change in political line? But the excellence of this book lies in the uniqueness of Kadare's vision, and in his ability to reflect pulsating human reality in the grip of an invincibly dehumanising force.
The son's Hamlet-like encounter with his father's ghost turns on questions of revenge and blood-feud custom. The daughter's desperate search for love is presented with painful candour. Kadare writes about sex as he does about politics, with passionate engagement. Playful in form, quirky in conception, this short book speaks volumes.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 2 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 3 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 4 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
- 5 16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
Eurovision 2015: Graham Norton returns with another cutting commentary - his best lines
Eurovision 2015: The best moments from Australia's random entry to Lithuania's gay kiss
Clarkson, Hammond and May Live: Top Gear trio returns with a blend of fireworks, AC/DC and 'automotive pornography'
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Eurovision 2015: Estonia seemingly enters Louis Tomlinson from One Direction
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland