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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Accident

Ismail Kadare

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To purchase The Accident

Title: The Accident
Author: Ismail Kadare
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 265 pages
Original in: Albanian
Availability: The Accident - US
The Accident - UK
The Accident - Canada
The Accident - India
L'accident - France
L'incidente - Italia
El accidente - España
  • Albanian title: Aksidenti
  • Translated by John Hodgson

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Our Assessment:

B- : promising start and concept, but doesn't cohere

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times D- 7/8/2010 Tibor Fischer
The Guardian C 14/8/2010 James Lasdun
The Independent . 3/9/2010 Julian Evans
The NY Times . 24/11/2010 Charles McGrath
The NY Times Book Rev. B 19/12/2010 Jascha Hoffman
The New Yorker . 20-27/12/2010 James Wood
The Observer . 29/8/2010 Mary Fitzgerald
San Francisco Chronicle . 12/12/2010 Abigail Deutsch
The Spectator . 18/9/2010 Francis King
The Telegraph B- 5/9/2010 Jane Shilling
The Times . 14/8/2010 Aisling Foster

  Review Consensus:

  Did not take to it -- reactions range from the politely underwhelmed to those finding it a complete dud

  From the Reviews:
  • "However, as a novel, it is dull and the characters have all the depth of a sheet of a paper. The Accident comes with a "recommended by [writers’ organisation] PEN" rubric. They should be ashamed of themselves for giving such an endorsement, as this book could put its readers off literature for life." - Tibor Fischer, Financial Times

  • "So far, so good. However, after the secret services abandon their investigations the case is picked up by an "unidentified researcher" (.....) From here on, as Kadare shifts restlessly between different points of view, lurching back and forth across time (...), the book envelops itself rather rapidly in deep fog. The real, the surmised, the imagined, even the dreamed begin to blur together, and unless you have a taste for the kind of swirling indeterminacy in which, say, a woman can be shot in one paragraph and continue calmly about her business in the next, the effect is likely to be problematic." - James Lasdun, The Guardian

  • "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." - Julian Evans, The Independent

  • "His new novel, The Accident, is not one of his major achievements (.....) But The Accident, fluidly translated by John Hodgson, is provocative nonetheless, not least because of the way it starts out as one kind of book and turns into something else entirely. This, you feel, is how Mr. Kadare sees the world: as a place always shifting and remaking itself." - Charles McGrath, The New York Times

  • "After a point the dour uncertainty begins to feel gratuitous, despite Hodgson’s succinct translation, and with words like "tyrant" and "liberator" flying between the lovers, the novel risks heavy-handed allegory. But for the most part Kadare leaves the scars of the Balkan past in the shadows to focus on something more elusive and possibly more damaging than history: love." - Jascha Hoffman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The new book is spare and often powerful, but a bit too spare, so that the ribs of allegory show through, in painful obviousness. (...) (T)he analysis of incomprehensibility here seems quite opaque. Yet, at the same time, the symbolic pressure is a little too transparent." - James Wood, The New Yorker

  • "To reveal that the mystery is never fully resolved does not ruin the story, but underlines what this book isn't: a conventional whodunit. Instead, it's a provocative exploration of the sinister underside of human relations." - Mary Fitzgerald, The Observer

  • "Echoing with literary references, enriched by political relevance, Besfort and Rovena's investigation manages to seem groundbreaking despite its central flaw: Few paradigms of male-female relations are more archetypal than that between prostitute and client. Seeking a new kind of love via an old model is like trying to reach the moon on a pogo stick: Readers might admire the effort but question the efficacy." - Abigail Deutsch, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "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." - Francis King, The Spectator

  • "In John Hodgson’s translation, Kadare’s prose retains its elusive elegance. But his narrative lacks the assurance of his recently published works. He seems equally ill at ease in a political environment in which Albania is a member of Nato, and in the private realm of sexual obsession, the descriptions of which veer uncertainly between grandiosity and a tone uneasily reminiscent of the headier flights of Dame Barbara Cartland. Kadare’s admirers will find things to treasure in this new work, but it is a muted addition to his oeuvre." - Jane Shilling, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ismail Kadare's three-act novel, The Accident, begins promisingly, with a taxi accident that leaves the two passengers dead on an Austrian highway. The taxi driver survives, and recounts that in the instant before the accident he saw the man and woman kiss, or try to kiss; that's as close as anything to the 'cause' of the otherwise inexplicable accident. Filed away as an accident, the case-report suddenly attracts the interest of first (at this point still unified) Serbia and Montenegro, and then Albania, and the whole story comes back to life.
       The names of the victims are not immediately revealed, but the lovers turn out to be Besfort Y. -- "the kind of person to be a thorn in the side of Yugoslavia" -- and his girlfriend, Rovena. Both spent much of their time abroad, in the new Europe, in what was clearly a complicated relationship. The shadowy Besfort seems an unlikely target for murder after the end of the conflicts in Yugoslavia (though for their duration he was certainly someone people would have apparently wanted to get out of the way), and it turns out he might have good reason to fear being hauled before the International Court of Justice in the Hague for some of his activities. Meanwhile, fatalistic Rovena lived in some fear of soon going to her death, with or without Besfort, making suggestive claims without ever really fully spelling out the reasons for her concern.
       Official inquiries come to no conclusion, but an unnamed researcher takes up the case, or cause -- spending: "years trying to reach the heart of the matter, like a workman going underground to find damaged cables". The bulk of the novel is then taken up by the second section, which follows the last forty weeks in the lives of Rovena and Besfort.
       "This story just gets more obscure", a friend tells Rovena as she talks about her relationship, and much the same can be said of The Accident, particularly as Kadare flails about in trying to present the lovers' tortured relationship, especially over the course of those final forty weeks.
       "There are some decent ideas behind this, most notably the difficulties the characters have adjusting to the post-Hoxha world. As Besford at one point tells Rovena:

Until yesterday you were complaining that it was my fault you aren't free. And now you say you have too much freedom.
       Torn between being a kept woman and freeing herself from Besford -- who is similarly uncertain about what he wants from this relationship and this woman -- Kadare offers two characters who can't commit, and he similarly does not commit himself to anything. This works for a while, but eventually the cryptic dialogue and constant back-and-forth becomes tiresome. What constants there are -- Besford's fear of being brought to justice, for example ("The Hague isn't just a flower garden. More than anything else, it's a court. It preys on the mind of anyone with an uneasy conscience") -- are quite effective, but Kadare's wallows in vagueness ultimately make for too much of a fog. There's no need for a tidy resolution, but the story itself also proves only intermittently compelling, and that's harder to take.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 December 2010

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The Accident: Reviews: Ismail Kadare: Other books by Ismail Kadare under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Albanian author Ismail Kadare was born in 1936. He was the first winner of the Man Booker International Prize (2005).

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