I'm so far removed from the critical consensus in my reaction to this book that I can't help wondering if I'm a philistine. However, despite the overwhelming salvo of positive quotes that pack the first three (yes, three) pages of this novel, I was left unmoved. Mehmet Shehu, an Albanian politician who died in 1981, is the barely disguised successor of the title. Shehu was the designated successor to dictator Enver Hoxha (represented here as The Guide) and his death, from a single gunshot wound to the head, remains a mystery.
It's this mystery that Kadare wants to explore here. Did the successor kill himself or was he murdered? Kadare takes us inside the minds of several key figures: the successor's daughter, who pines for her ex-fiance, the architect who redesigned the successor's palace, a high-ranking minister whose career hangs in the balance and, finally, the successor himself.
Kadare does a good job of suggesting the constant fear that envelopes a dictatorship. His portrayal of The Guide as a devious, malicious but ultimately childish despot is equally strong. The problem is his prose, or at least the translation of it (from Albanian, via French), which is frequently impenetrable.
Whole scenes pass without characters being introduced to the reader and the narrative slips between past and present, real and imagined dialogue, without any kind of warning. For the critics quoted on the cover, this constitutes dream and reality melting together. For me, it just left me wondering what the hell was going on.