The Successor by Ismail Kadare
Fragmentary, confusing, dissident and frightening, The Successor is not an easy book to read. Most journalists have opted for the descriptive shorthand of likening Kadare to Kafka but while both writers dabble with the state between dreams and reality, Kafka’s ideas seem almost childish when compared to the winter-cold vision presented by Kadare. There are constant reminders that the events related actually took place in 1981 and not in some daydream dystopia: it’s a repeated slap in the face with a cold reality check ensuring that this is not mistaken for fantasy. The novel opens with the announcement of the suicide of the eponymous successor to a seat of power formerly occupied by the Communist dictator, Enver Hoxa (actually it opens with a windswept history of Albanian politics but that somehow doesn’t feel like the start of any novel). Questions arise about the nature of the death and the reader is wedged into a clamber for power and the fall of a house of godlike, yet peculiarly vulnerable rulers. Kadare mixes real fears of absolute power and oppression with the fleeing shadows and locked rooms of pulpier mystery novels. He somehow manages to identify disturbing trends occurring both then and now; to explain them; and, astoundingly, force recognition of what was previously invisible. His dreamlike passages aren’t just strange or symbolic but genuinely akin to childhood nightmares: homes invaded by familiar men in suits; a father’s autopsy conducted in the lounge. This is a long way from giant cockroaches.