Prophet Song by Paul Lynch Wins The Booker Prize

By James Bacon: Paul Lynch’s book Prophet Song won the Booker prize this evening. Described by Samira Ahmed Booker BBC 4 presenter and host for the evening as “Set in a near future Ireland where society is breaking down and people are becoming refugees” and Judge Esi Edugyan said that “We sought a winning novel that would transport us, we sought a winning novel that would speak to the immediate moment while also possessing the ability to outlast it… a book to remind us that we are more than ourselves, to remind us of all that is worth saving”.

Following the presentation of the award Lynch made a small speech.  “This was not an easy book to write, the rational part of me believed that I was dooming me by writing this novel, though I had to write the book anyway, we do not have a choice in such matters.” He continued, “I believe that literary style should be a way of knowing how the world is met and its unfolding, senses should press into the unknown moment, into the most obscure hidden aspects of life, that which is barely known but which is asking to be released”.

When Samira Ahmed noted Prophet Song was about a country breaking down and a family becoming refugees, and asked Lynch what made him set it in Ireland he responded, ” I think it is important that novelists should be free to be counterfactual, whether they’re writing something that maybe a parallel of the present, maybe a story that projects into the future but always that asking questions about what’s timeless and what we need to pay attention to and I think that writers have a duty to push past the spectacle that we have been bombarded with for years, to break through the noise, the tyranny of the know that surround us, to create space again for the whisper in the ear that the novelist can do uniquely.” 

If fans wonder why this is a novel worth reading, here is a short review. 

Paul LynchProphet Song

This is a very powerful literary story, where the landscape is frighteningly familiar with situations that we are so used to happening elsewhere, far away and to others, suddenly in our own city of Dublin, on its streets, in the shops at the crossroads.  

There is a style of long lovely language to it, but one where within the story the tension is tight, the tempo is quick and so the eloquence forms around the story which runs at a steady deadly fast flow, darkening at times which draws the reader ever onwards. I completed the book in less than 30 hours, finding it compelling, not an easy read, a necessary one.

I have yet to ascertain if Paul Lynch said it himself, but the setting is allegedly a near future Ireland, and crikey, it feels so close, so of the moment, situations in Dublin, in Gaza and Israel, in Ukraine and on the English Channel, all somehow reflected in this book, that was started during covid, and completed last year, an unnervingly feeling of the now, capturing what we see on screens, and throwing it into a horribly familiar setting, with a fine Irish woman, Eilish our protagonist, a mother, daughter, wife and scientist, who resonates so hard, reminding somehow me of my own Mam, but leaving you hoping no Mam would have to face such trials, and making one think of all the families, caught up in something horrible. 

Eilish’s actions , decisions, choices, all so hard and challenging, dreadfully so, trying to be the best mam she can as all mams are and strive to be. The book is  so descriptive one feels for Eilish, and feels her reality is unbearably real, and for many it is, but unbelievable in an Irish setting, and yet so tangible, that you could taste it, the hunger for power and control, the bloody brutality of governments and bureaucracy, the horror of war and the fear of loss.

There are many moments of sheer brilliance, the sentences and narrative, insightful, perfect, and all the time, not just some notional sense of place, but Dublin, it is so Dublin, that you are there, hearing and seeing unimaginable things, horrid appalling things, but all so possible, an underlying malevolence that we see come to rotten fruition in other places now.

It is its own book, I am not comparing it to other works, for that does a disservice to novels I love, and this book, that I have found so engaging, it is unique, distinctive in its way, brilliantly so, and its setting and situations are thoughtful and thought through. It is a dystopian novel for sure, and will sit well amongst other dystopian books, the great ones, and alternative histories, and near dark futures, and ones which straddle the place where literary fiction meets genre fiction, and readers can discern a great story, and not worry so much about labels, imposed, or pigeon holes, arbitrary or others dictating what a great story is, but enjoy good writing and reflect and think.   

Here is the official back of book enticement:  

On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack answers her front door to find the GNSB on her step. Two officers from Ireland’s newly formed secret police are here to interrogate her husband, a trade unionist.

Ireland is falling apart. The country is in the grip of a government turning towards tyranny and when her husband disappears, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare logic of a society that is quickly unravelling. How far will she go to save her family? And what – or who – is she willing to leave behind?

Booker Prize 2023 Shortlist

The six novels on the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist revealed September 21 include one book of genre interest, title shown in boldface.

  • Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein
  • If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
  • This Other Eden by Paul Harding
  • Prophet Song by Paul Lynch
  • Western Lane by Chetna Maroo 
  • The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

In Prophet Song, a husband and father is arrested and imprisoned by repressive government forces as Ireland slides into totalitarianism.

Author Paul Lynch did not originally expect this to be his next book:

I had previously spent six months writing the wrong book, and knew it too, but kept hammering through rock in the hope of a breakthrough. Then one Friday, about 3pm, I stopped writing and thought, this is the wrong book – I will return on Monday morning and start a new one. I could sense there was something lurking just out of sight but I didn’t know what it might be.   

On Monday morning, I created a new document – Janson font, 1.5” margins, 1.6 spacing, Mac Pages. (I like the page to look like a book.) I closed my eyes and the opening page of Prophet Song arrived pretty much as you read it now. Those sentences came out of the blind and I can honestly say it is one of the miracles of my writing life. How did I know there was another book there? I really don’t know. I didn’t even know the book I was yet to write, and yet so much of the meaning of the book is encoded in those opening sentences. How is that possible? Again, I don’t know. Writers learn to trust their intuition, and there it was, the opening notes of a song that would become the book.

Lynch’s awards include the 2022 Gens de Mer Prize, the 2020 Ireland Francophonie Ambassadors’ Literary Award and the 2018 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award.