Paul Lynch, author of Prophet Song, winner of the Booker Prize 2023

Prophet Song, Paul Lynch’s ‘triumph of emotional storytelling’ wins the Booker Prize 2023

Paul Lynch becomes the fifth Irish writer to win the Booker Prize, for his fifth novel, which has been heralded as 'a crucial book for our current times’

Publication date and time: Published

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch is tonight, Sunday, November 26, named the winner of the Booker Prize 2023. He receives £50,000 and was presented with his trophy by Shehan Karunatilaka, last year’s winner, at a ceremony held at Old Billingsgate, London. The event was hosted by Samira Ahmed and broadcast live as a special episode of BBC Radio 4 Front Row. It was also livestreamed in an hour-long online programme, hosted by Jack Edwards and featuring interviews with special guests, on the Booker Prizes’ and Jack’s own YouTube channels simultaneously. Watch here

Prophet Song, which is Lynch’s fifth novel, is an exhilarating, propulsive and confrontational portrait of a country – and a family – on the brink of catastrophe. Ireland is in the grip of a government that is taking a turn towards tyranny and Eilish Stack, the novel’s protagonist, soon finds herself trying to make sense of the nightmare of a collapsing society – assailed by unpredictable forces beyond her control and desperate to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.   

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch
  • Chair of Judges, Esi Edugyan, describes the book as ‘soul-shattering and true’, adding that readers ‘will not soon forget its warnings’ 

  • Prophet Song was the bookmakers’ favourite to win the Booker Prize 

  • Heralded in one review as ‘a crucial book for our current times’, Prophet Song captures some of the biggest social and political anxieties of our age, from the rise of political extremism to the global plight of refugees 

  • Paul Lynch said of the book, ‘Prophet Song is partly an attempt at radical empathy. I wanted to deepen the reader’s immersion to such a degree that by the end of the book, they would not just know, but feel this problem for themselves’    

  • Lynch is the fifth Irish author to win the Booker Prize, after Iris Murdoch, John Banville, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright. The Northern Irish writer Anna Burns won in 2018. Lynch was one of four Irish writers to make this year’s longlist 

  • Prophet Song is published in the UK by Oneworld. The independent publisher previously won the prize two years running in 2015 and 2016, with  Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout 

  • The keynote speech at the award ceremony was delivered by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released from prison in Tehran last year and described the ways in which books had saved her when she was in solitary confinement: ‘Books helped me to take refuge into the world of others when I was incapable of making one of my own. They salvaged me by being one of the very few tools I had, together with imagination, to escape the Evin walls without physically moving’ 

Paul Lynch, author of Prophet Song, shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023

Esi Edugyan, Chair of the 2023 judges, says:

‘From that first knock at the door, Prophet Song forces us out of our complacency as we follow the terrifying plight of a woman seeking to protect her family in an Ireland descending into totalitarianism. We felt unsettled from the start, submerged in – and haunted by – the sustained claustrophobia of Lynch’s powerfully constructed world. He flinches from nothing, depicting the reality of state violence and displacement and offering no easy consolations. Here the sentence is stretched to its limits – Lynch pulls off feats of language that are stunning to witness. He has the heart of a poet, using repetition and recurring motifs to create a visceral reading experience. This is a triumph of emotional storytelling, bracing and brave. With great vividness, Prophet Song captures the social and political anxieties of our current moment. Readers will find it soul-shattering and true, and will not soon forget its warnings.’ 

Esi Edugyan was joined on this year’s judging panel by actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Shakespeare specialist James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb.   

The winning book was selected from 163 titles published between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023, and submitted to the prize by publishers. The Booker Prize is open to unified and sustained works of fiction by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.  

Esi Edugyan Booker Prize 2023 shortlist London

Gaby Wood, Chief Executive of the Booker Prize Foundation, adds:

‘This year’s judges are so wide-ranging in their tastes, and so delightedly different in their styles of reading, that they developed a rule of thumb in order to find books they all loved. If they asked themselves ‘what is this book doing?’, they could analyse its technique, or the ways in which it advanced the art of fiction. If they asked themselves ‘what is this book doing to me?’, they could express their subjective responses, and identify novels that had an emotional impact. For this panel, the best books were those that answered and rewarded both of these questions. And the judges established at the start of the final meeting that any of the six books on the shortlist would be a worthy winner. Prophet Song is composed of masterful sentences, and packs a profound emotional punch.’ 

Gaby Wood

Paul Lynch’s comments on Prophet Song 

Asked why he chose to set his novel in a dystopian Ireland, and if it was inspired by any real-world events, Lynch told the Booker Prizes website: ‘I was trying to see into the modern chaos. The unrest in Western democracies. The problem of Syria – the implosion of an entire nation, the scale of its refugee crisis and the West’s indifference. Prophet Song is partly an attempt at radical empathy. To understand better, we must first experience the problem for ourselves. So I sought to deepen the dystopian by bringing to it a high degree of realism. I wanted to deepen the reader’s immersion to such a degree that by the end of the book, they would not just know, but feel this problem for themselves.’   

Lynch was one of four Irish authors on this year’s Booker longlist. Speaking about the wealth of exciting fiction coming out of Ireland just now, he said: ‘None of this would be possible without the support of the Irish state. I received two Arts Council bursaries during the four years it took to write this book.’ In a video interview with the Booker Prizes, Lynch talked about the influence of the great Irish writers of the past: ‘Writers like Beckett or Joyce don’t just produce great works of literature, they transmit into the culture a massive energy and we’re still drawing on that, whether we realise it or not.’ 

Asked about being published by Oneworld, Lynch told the Booker Prizes website: ‘Annie Dillard once wrote that good writers are like tennis players playing to the edges of the court. “That’s where the exhilaration is,” she said. “He hits up the line. He pushes the edges.” Juliet [Mabey, Lynch’s publisher and editor] continues to publish authors who play to the edges, whether or not they deliver commercially. Many imprints at the major publishing houses are more risk averse and this is why Oneworld, along with Fitzcarraldo, and other exciting indie houses, continue to garner acclaim and prizes.’    

Writing in the Guardian, Lynch explained, ‘I wondered about how the real is no longer real, how misinformation and disinformation have led to a decline in trust in traditional sources of authority. I wanted to understand where all this might lead… I understood that I did not want to write a political novel, that the calling card of serious fiction is not grievance but grief – that which lies beyond our ken, that which we are powerless to control. I sought to put narrative shape on life and death, power and powerlessness, on how life is lived in blindness, and that we act with certainty but reap the unforeseen. I wanted to explore the nature of force, problems of choice and free will, and to pose questions about human dignity.’ 

Asked in a video interview for the Booker Prizes whether Prophet Song is a dystopian novel, Lynch said: ‘What I wanted to do with this book was dismantle the form of the dystopian novel. I’ve always been suspicious that the dystopian sometimes can be a little too papier mâché. The speculative that’s going on in this book isn’t speculative at all. It’s actually going on somewhere in the world right now. Such a book cannot be speculative at all. It’s actually realism.’ 

Paul Lynch, author of Prophet Song makes a speech after winning the Booker Prize 2023

Media reaction and the ‘Booker effect’ 

Aimée Walsh in the Observer wrote that ‘If there was ever a crucial book for our current times, it’s Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song. An important story aching to be told, heavy with the reality it bears. This is a story of bloodshed and heartache that strikes at the core of the inhumanity of western politicians’ responses to the refugee crisis. Lynch’s message is crystal clear: lives the world over are experiencing upheaval, violence, persecution. Prophet Song is a literary manifesto for empathy for those in need and a brilliant, haunting novel that should be placed into the hands of policymakers everywhere.’ 

Melissa Harrison in the Guardian wrote that ‘The Irish offspring of The Handmaid’s Tale and Nineteen Eighty-Four, Paul Lynch’s Booker-longlisted fifth novel is as nightmarish a story as you’ll come across: powerful, claustrophobic and horribly real. From its opening pages it exerts a grim kind of grip; even when approached cautiously and read in short bursts it somehow lingers, its world leaking out from its pages like black ink into clear water… Where Prophet Song leads us in its closing pages is shocking, yet grimly inevitable. We would do well not to look away.’ 

Eoghan Smith in the Literary Review called it a ‘gripping, brilliantly realised story of political violence … a masterly novel’, while Alannah Hopkin in the Irish Examiner said, ‘I don’t know when I last read a book that left me as shaken and disturbed as Paul Lynch’s fifth novel. It is a tremendous achievement, telling a dark story of a society’s descent into war that resonates far beyond Ireland.’ Max Liu from iNews praised the ‘strong meditations on what home means in a world in perpetual crisis and how we disassociate ourselves from other people’s catastrophes.’ 

As the winner, Lynch can expect instant international recognition and a dramatic increase in global sales. The 2022 Booker Prize was won by Shehan Karunatilaka with The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. After winning, sales of the book soared to over 115,000 across all formats, according to its publisher Sort of Books. It has now been translated into 29 languages and has outsold Karunatilaka’s previous novel, Chinaman, by over 2,000%.  

The ceremony 

The keynote speech was delivered by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released from Evin prison in Tehran last year. She described how books had saved her when she was in solitary confinement and how a secret library operated among inmates: ‘I spent nine months in solitary confinement with very little access to anything. Being claustrophobic, solitary was a horrific experience. After five months my family could bring me books. When the guard opened the door and handed over the books to me, I felt liberated; I could read books, they could take me to another world, and that, could transform my life. One day a cellmate received a book through the post; it was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, translated into Farsi. Who thought a book banned in Iran could find its way to prison through the post? When we left, we all bequeathed books to the secret library in the ward to keep our stories alive for others to come, just like others those who left their books for us to survive.’ 

The Booker Prize trophy, presented to Lynch, was originally designed by the beloved children’s author and illustrator Jan Pieńkowski in 1969, and was reinstated last year. Earlier this year, it was named Iris in a public vote, in honour of Iris Murdoch, who won the Booker Prize in 1978 for The Sea, The Sea.  

Each of the shortlisted authors received £2,500 and a unique, hand-bound edition of their book, designed by six Fellows of the Designer Bookbinders society, which were on display at the ceremony. Find out more about the bound books here

Winner Paul Lynch and shortlisted authors Sarah Bernstein, Jonathan Escoffery, Paul Harding, Chetna Maroo and Paul Murray were all in attendance at the ceremony. Other guests included previous winners Ben Okri, Eleanor Catton and Alan Hollinghurst, as well as some of this year’s longlisted authors and many past shortlistees. In addition, high-profile figures from across the cultural spectrum attended, including Valerie Amos, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Joan Bakewell, Caitríona Balfe, Alfred Enoch, Bella and Esther Freud, Antony Gormley, Katy Hessel, Bianca Jagger, Annie MacManus, David Olusoga, Cornelia Parker, Nitin Sawhney and Charlene White.  

Also at the ceremony were members of the Booker Prize Book Club, a new Facebook community of over 6,000 readers, who posted reviews of the shortlisted books within the group. They were joined by representatives of The Bookshop, Mold, in North Wales, which was one six independent bookshops selected as winners of the Booker Prizes’ Indie Spotlight competition.  

One of this year’s judges, Adjoa Andoh, read an extract from the 1990 Booker Prize-winning novel, Possession, in honour of the late A.S. Byatt, who died earlier this month. Guests were also shown a video from the Booker Prize Foundation’s year, including its work in prisons, Books Unlocked, in association with the National Literacy Trust, in which singer songwriter Dua Lipa visited HMP Downview to see the project in action. Video readings of each of the shortlisted titles, directed by Hannah Berry George and featuring actors Caitríona Balfe, Alfred Enoch, Paterson Joseph, Susan Lynch, Bel Powley and Nina Wadia were also featured. Longer versions of the videos can be found on the Booker Prizes website and YouTube channel.  

Booker Prize 2023 awards dinner

The Booker Prize week 

Booker Prize Week began on Thursday, November 23 with HM The Queen hosting the shortlisted authors in a reception at Clarence House. That evening, the Southbank Centre and the Booker Prize Foundation presented the shortlisted authors in a Q&A at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, hosted by novelist and screenwriter Sara Collins, and gave readings from their books.  

On Friday, November 24, four of the shortlisted authors travelled to the Hay Festival Winter Weekend to discuss their books with the Booker Prize’s Chief Executive Gaby Wood. Sarah Bernstein joined the event remotely and Chetna Maroo made a digital pre-recorded appearance. 

Paul Lynch’s first public event as the Booker Prize 2023 winner takes place on Tuesday, November 28, 5.45pm at HOME in Manchester, hosted by Manchester-based writer Okechukwu Nzelu. Lynch will take part in a Q&A and a screening of In My Room, directed by Ulrich Köhler. This film has been chosen by MUBI – the global streaming service, production company and film distributor – to complement Prophet Song, as part of its partnership with the Booker Prize, in which films from the MUBI platform were paired with each of the shortlisted titles. Find out more here

The following evening, Lynch returns to London for an evening event at Foyles Charing Cross Road, hosted by Anita Rani, in which he’ll be in conversation with last year’s winner, Shehan Karunatilaka. The event will also be livestreamed. More information on how to buy tickets is here  

Booker Prize 2023 shortlisted authors on stage at the Southbank Centre public reading event in conversation with host Sara Collins

The leading prize for quality fiction in English 

First awarded in 1969, The Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for literary fiction written in English and published in the UK or Ireland. The list of former winners features many of the literary giants of the last five decades: from Iris Murdoch to Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul to Hilary Mantel.   

Trophy and shortlisted books at the International Booker Prize 2023

About the winning book and author

Publisher synopsis 

The explosive literary sensation: a mother faces a terrible choice as Ireland slides into totalitarianism. 

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? 

Exhilarating, terrifying and propulsive, Prophet Song is a work of breathtaking originality, offering a devastating vision of a country at war and a deeply human portrait of a mother’s fight to hold her family together. 

Author biography 

Paul Lynch is the internationally-acclaimed, prize-winning author of five novels: Beyond the Sea, Grace, The Black Snow, Red Sky in Morning and Prophet Song. His third novel, Grace, won the 2018 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year and the 2020 Ireland Francophonie Ambassadors’ Literary Award. 

​Paul Lynch was born in Limerick in 1977, grew up in Co Donegal, and lives in Dublin. He was previously the chief film critic of Ireland’s S

Paul Lynch, author of Prophet Song

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