Paul Lynch’s fifth novel is the winner of the Booker Prize 2023. A mother faces a terrible choice, in his exhilarating, propulsive and confrontational portrait of a society on the brink
On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack answers her front door to find the GNSB on her doorstep. Two officers from Ireland’s newly formed secret police want to speak with her husband.
Things are falling apart. Ireland is in the grip of a government that is taking a turn towards tyranny. And as the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare logic of a collapsing society – assailed by unpredictable forces beyond her control and forced to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.
Prophet Song was announced as the winner of the Booker Prize 2023 on November 26 at a ceremony in London.
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— The Booker Prize 2023 judges on Prophet Song, the winner of the Booker Prize 2023
‘Four long years it took to write, through pandemic and normality, through Long Covid and health. My son, Elliot, was born just before I began to write, and by the end, he was riding a bike.
The spewing out of drafts is not for me. I write (mostly) five days a week, a few hundred careful words a day, often researching as I go, in a process whereby I edit as I write. These days, my first drafts come fairly close to the final one.
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.’
Read the full interview here
‘Prophet Song follows one woman’s attempts to save her family in a dystopic Ireland sliding further and further into authoritarian rule. It is a shocking, at times tender novel that is not soon forgotten.
‘It is propulsive and unsparing, and it flinches away from nothing. This is an utterly brave performance by an author at the peak of his powers, and it is terribly moving.
‘Prophet Song has one of the most haunting endings you will ever read. The book lives long in the mind after you’ve set it down.’
Aimée Walsh, The Guardian
‘Told without paragraph breaks, the book has a breathless, claustrophobic atmosphere. Free will and the meaning of liberty are pushed beyond their limits, eroding both to a state of near non-existence. It begins in Dublin as Larry, a senior trade unionist, is disappeared at a rally, leaving his wife, Eilish, to raise their four children. She must make impossible decisions to protect her family. In one heart-wrenching scene, she has to run across no man’s land to see her injured son at a hospital, risking execution by snipers shooting at civilians.’
Max Liu, The iNews
‘Lynch shuns a happy ending, leaving the reader with hope but resisting the bromide that nasty governments are an aberration and politics will soon go back to normal. That’s brave but over all this is an odd novel, a half-successful fusion of the dystopian and poetic, carrying a prophecy that sounds familiar.’
Alannah Hopkin, Irish Examiner
‘Paul Lynch is a fearless writer — unafraid of taking on large themes and tackling them face to face. The story recounts a mother’s experience of life in suburban Dublin, as it is transformed by a tyrannical government into a war zone. While it is Irish in detail, its events recall those seen nightly on the news.’