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The witch in the machine Francis King The Accident by Ismail Kadare Canongate, £16.99, pp. 263 ISBN 9781847673398

If one asks Albanians who is their greatest living writer, the immediate answer is Ismail Kadare, winner of the inaugural Mann Booker International Prize in 2005. But the tone of any discussion that follows is all too often grudging or even hostile. The books themselves are hugely popular, their author far less so.

The reason for this is that throughout a period whenmanyEastern European writers were suffering persecution for their opposition to Stalinist regimes, the worst that ever happened to Kadare was an embargo on his work for three years.A Marxist, he managed to remain on friendly terms with theAlbanian dictatorship until two months before the toppling of Enver Hoxa. It was only then that he announced his surely long overdue defection. Such behaviour has not stopped western journalists from referring to him as ‘Albania’s Solzhenitsyn’ — a laudation that he himself, to his credit, has repudiated.

Like many of Kadare’s books, The Accident starts as a murder mystery. On a

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Vienna autobahn a taxi crashes over a barrier, hurling its two Albanian passengers, a man and a woman, out of the back doors to their deaths.The taxi-driver, who survives, is incapable of giving any explanation for the accident, but he does record that just before it occurred he had seen in the rear-view mirror the couple about to kiss and that this was followed by a blinding flash of light.

Police investigators come up with a variety of explanations, the most popular of which is that one of the couple murdered the other. Involvement of an intelligence agency or of the Albanian underworld is also frequently suggested, as is the blackmail of the male victim, an international civil servant, for his participation in the massacre of children in the recent Balkan wars.

While recording these futile investigations, the book increasingly concerns itself with the relationship, part obsessive love and part obsessive hatred, between the couple. The woman, a winner of a succession of international scholarships that enable her to make a career out of her endlessly prolonged studies, takes other lovers, male and female, with the man’s connivance, and even plays out the role of call-girl to titillate him further. These sections, sited for the most part in luxury international hotels, become increasingly frequent and, it must be confessed, increasingly tedious, despite an abundance of references to bosoms and buttocks and to what the author calls ‘the dark triangle … the final hurdle’.

Eventually, Kadare has knitted such a matted web of mystery that, seemingly lost for a satisfactory solution, he resorts to one familiar from some of his other novels: the supernatural. So, not all that persuasively, here is a malignant Albanian witch, Anevor


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Journeythroughtheafterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead Thursday 18 November 2010 5.30p.m. – 8.30p.m. In association with the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG We invite you to explore the unique customs and rituals of ancient Egypt with The Spectator. For the first time, the British Museum is pulling together its unrivalled ‘Book of the Dead’ collection for public viewing. Each papyrus and linen book contains the spells and incantations designed to ensure safe passage through the underworld and grant eternal life for the deceased. Some are more than 3,500 years old. Spectator readers have an exclusive opportunity to view the collection after the crowds have subsided and take a journey deep into this remarkable civilisation with exhibition curator John H. Taylor before joining the award-winning writer Bryan Appleyard, author of How to Live Forever or Die Trying, in a discussion about the quest for immortality in ancient as well as modern cultures. We hope you will be able to join us for an evening which will truly earn the description ‘once-in-a-lifetime’. £45 ticket includes exhibition entry, drinks reception, talk and gift book Reserve your place by calling the Spectator events team on 020 7961 0044, quoting reference BM02 or email or visit Image: Scene from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer. Egypt, c. 1280 BC. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

14/9/10 12:52:23

the spectator | 18 September 2010 |

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