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

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch has been named the winner of the Booker Prize 2023. The author receives £50,000 and was presented with his trophy by Shehan Karunatilaka, the 2022 winner, at a ceremony held at Old Billingsgate, London on Sunday, November 26.

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 YouTube programme, hosted by Jack Edwards and featuring interviews with special guests. The ceremony included a keynote speech 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.

  • Chair of Judges, Esi Edugyan, described the winning 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
Paul Lynch, author of Prophet Song, shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023

Esi Edugyan, Chair of judges, said:

‘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

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

‘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
Published by
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

The Shortlist

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

The Longlist

The 2023 judges

About the judges

Esi Edugyan (Chair) is the internationally bestselling author of Washington Black, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Carnegie Medal for Literary Excellence, among others – and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It was chosen by both the New York Times and Barack Obama as one of the best books of 2018. The epic Hulu/Disney TV series of Washington Black, starring Sterling K Brown and co-produced by Edugyan, is slated for release in Spring 2023.

Edugyan’s other novels include The Second Life of Samuel Tyne and Half-Blood Blues, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2011, as well as for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Governor General’s Literary Award. Half-Blood Blues won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.

Edugyan is also the author of Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home and more recently Out of the Sun: Essays at the Crossroads of Race, delivered in Canada as the Massey Lectures. Her first children’s book, Garden of Lost Socks, will be published next year by HarperCollins Canada.

Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Edygyan is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, where she now lives. She has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain, and Belgium, and judged prizes including the Giller Prize with Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Lethem.

Esi Edugyan

Adjoa Andoh is one of Britain’s leading actors, who won global acclaim as Lady Danbury in the hit Netflix series Bridgerton - a role that saw her nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress at the 2021 NAACP Image Awards. Elsewhere on the small screen in 2020 she played Dr Isaacs in the psychological thriller Fractured, as well as DI Nina Rosen in BBC1’s Silent Witness. In 2021 she starred as Nenneke in the Netflix blockbuster fantasy drama, The Witcher. Her many other television appearances include regulars in Dr Who, Casualty and Law & Order UK.

A renowned stage actor, Andoh has been celebrated for lead roles at the National Theatre - including Condoleezza Rice in Stuff Happens and Serafina Pekkala in His Dark Materials - and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she played Portia in Julius Caesar, Ulysses in Troilus & Cressida and Helen of Troy in The Odyssey. In 2019 she conceived, co-directed, and played Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, in the UK’s first all women-of-colour production.

She made her Hollywood debut in 2009, starring alongside Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in Clint Eastwood’s biographical sports film Invictus. Other film appearances include Adulthood, Brotherhood, and I Is A Long Memoried Woman.

She has been a BBC radio actor for over 30 years and is an award-winning narrator of over 150 audiobooks, including Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Naomi Alderman’s The Power and all of the No. 1 Ladies Detectives Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. She judged the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing in 2016 and was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature earlier this year.

Andoh is an Associate Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Senior Associate Artist at The Bush Theatre. She was recently appointed as the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at the University of Oxford, joining a distinguished list of past professors that includes Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Miller and Sir Ian McKellen. In 2023 she will direct and star in a production of Richard III at the Liverpool Playhouse and Rose Theatre Kingston.

Adjoa Andoh

Mary Jean Chan is one of British poetry’s fastest rising stars. Flèche, a debut collection ingeniously organised around the sport of fencing, was published by Faber & Faber in 2019 and Faber USA in 2020. It won the Costa Book Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for numerous awards, including the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize, the Jhalak Prize, the Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. In 2018, Chan’s title poem from Flèche won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, awarded annually by the Poetry Society. Chan has twice been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and received a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award for a collection by a poet under the age of 30 in 2019. That year, Chan was chosen by Jackie Kay as one of Kay’s ten best BAME writers in Britain.

In 2022, Chan co-edited with Andrew McMillan the landmark Vintage anthology 100 Queer Poems, which was recently selected as a Guardian Best Poetry Book of the Year and shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards. Chan’s poetry, essays and reviews have been featured in or are forthcoming from the New Republic, the New Statesman, the London Review of Books, Granta, the Poetry Review and the White Review, with their reviews appearing regularly in the Guardian. As an early career academic, Chan has written for the Review of English Studies, the Journal of American Studies and the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chan currently lives in Oxford and is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Oxford Brookes University while also serving as a supervisor on the MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. In 2022, Chan was a Visiting Writer at the NTU Asia Creative Writing Programme in Singapore. Chan is a Rathbones Folio Prize Academy member, having judged the 2019 and 2020 Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation, the 2022 Jhalak Prize and the 2022 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Chan’s second book, Bright Fear, is forthcoming from Faber in August 2023.

Mary Jean Chan

James Shapiro is Professor of English at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1985. Among his books are: 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), which was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize; 1606: The Year of Lear (2015), awarded the James Tait Black Prize for Biography; and most recently Shakespeare in a Divided America (2020), selected as one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times. He is currently at work on two books: Playbook: Politics, Theatre, and the Origins of America’s Culture Wars and Othello: An American Life.

His writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the New Statesman, the Financial Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic. He has also co-written and presented a pair of BBC documentaries: The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History (2012) and The Mysterious Mr. Webster (2014).

He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Bogliasco Foundation, and in 2011 was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Authors Guild. He works with several theatre companies and is currently Shakespeare Scholar in Residence at New York’s Public Theater.

James Shapiro

Robert Webb was born in Lincolnshire in 1972 and attended Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Horncastle. He studied English at Cambridge, where he joined Footlights and met David Mitchell, forming the comedy partnership Mitchell and Webb. They went on to make five series of their Sony Award-winning BBC Radio 4 sketch show, That Mitchell and Webb Sound, and for television, four series of the Bafta-winning That Mitchell and Webb Look for BBC2.

As an actor, Webb is best known for playing Jeremy Usborne in Peep Show, which ran for nine series, making it Channel 4’s longest-running sitcom. The programme won another two Baftas, two British Comedy awards and in 2004 was awarded the prestigious Rose D’Or for Best Comedy. In the theatre, Webb has played numerous roles in London’s West End, most notably in the Olivier Award-winning Jeeves and Wooster: Perfect Nonsense, in which he gave a performance described by the critic Frank Cottrell-Boyce as ‘the definitive Bertie Wooster of his generation’.

In 2009 he won the BBC1 charity dance competition, Let’s Dance for Comic Relief, giving a memorable interpretation of the audition scene from the movie Flashdance. In 2021 he competed for three weeks in BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing before having to withdraw due to health issues (from which he has now fully recovered).

Webb’s documentary My Life In Verse focussed on the work of T S Eliot and featured Andrew Motion and Clive James among others. His 2017 memoir How Not To Be a Boy entered The Sunday Times non-fiction chart at number one, was serialised in the Guardian and was abridged for Radio 4’s Book of the Week. The audiobook, narrated by Webb himself, was Audible’s bestselling memoir of 2017. His debut novel Come Again was published in 2020, with the audiobook read by Olivia Colman.

He has written a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph, been an occasional contributor to The New Statesman and judged the BBC Young Writers’ Award. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Lincoln.

Robert Webb

The prize’s impact

The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English-speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades. It is sponsored by Crankstart, a charitable foundation.

The 2022 winner, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka – described by the TLS as ‘a rollicking magic-realist take on a recent bloody period in Sri Lankan history’, written with ‘with tinder-dry wit’, was hailed by booksellers, critics and readers. The book has experienced a huge global sales boost with the UK independent publisher Sort of Books reprinting 70,000 hardback copies, 30,000 trade paperbacks for export and airports, and 30,000 copies for the Australian market since the win on October 17. There have also been 70,000 reprints in the US and the same number again in India.

Translation rights have been sold by David Godwin and PFD in 26 languages, 24 of those since the Booker Prize win, with an audiobook released by Bolinda. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is released in paperback in March 2023.

In the UK, the hardback went to No 3 in the Sunday Times bestseller list and No 3 in the Amazon chart after the prize announcement, and has remained in the Sunday Times Top 20 hardback fiction charts since. It was chosen as a Guardian, Times, Sunday Times, Telegraph and Financial Times Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book of 2022.

What the authors and judges said

Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein  

What the author said: ‘I was trying to think through what it might look like if certain (usually feminised) characteristics associated with passivity could take on a kind of power, especially over the people reinforcing those sorts of gendered norms. That idea comes from the painter Paula Rego – that obedience can, in a sense, also be murderous – it can be harmful to the person demanding obedience. I was also interested in the question of innocence and the really bizarre expectation that, in order for someone’s suffering to be recognised as legitimate, that person needs also to be innocent – whatever that means.’  

What the judges said: ‘A stirring meditation on survival and a pointed critique of the demonisation of the outsider.’  

Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery  

What the author said: ‘I’m interested in what models we have for being good men, and in what potentially damaging messages we send men about how to be in the world, and in how those messages get passed from one generation to the next. I also wanted to explore the question of whether fraught relationships between fathers and sons can ever be repaired, and the associated costs of attempting to repair them.’   

What the judges said: ‘All of life is here in unflinching detail: the fragility of existence, the American dream and the road not taken.’   

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

This Other Eden by Paul Harding   

What the author said: ‘The line I tried as best I could to draw between fact and fiction was the maybe couple of dozen factual details that most struck me in the limited reading I did about Malaga Island and what they subsequently led to when I imagined my way beyond them. From the moment the historical events began to suggest connections with stories like Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden, The Tempest, Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs, Moby Dick, Harriet Jacob’s memoir, and so forth, I moved toward the purely fictional because I wanted a kind of poetic licence to intermingle the material with those influences.’

What the judges said: ‘It’s rare to encounter a work of historical fiction that is at once so lyrical and so empathetic.’

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch   

What the author said: ‘I was aware while writing this book that I was addressing, in part, a modern problem: why are we in the West so short on empathy for the refugees flooding towards our borders? Prophet Song is partly an attempt at radical empathy. To understand better, we must first experience the problem for ourselves. And 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.’

What the judges said: ‘Propulsive, unsparing and terribly moving, the book warns of the precarity of democratic ideals’.  

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

Western Lane by Chetna Maroo  

What the author said: ‘It’s fair to call it a sports novel. It’s also been called a coming-of-age novel, a domestic novel, a novel about grief, a novel about the immigrant experience. Recently a friend asked me if the book has something of the detective story about it, with Gopi trying to find her way, piecing together the clues of small gestures, actions and fragments of overheard conversations; she has little to go on and since she’s dealing with the mysteries of loss, there are no answers for her.’ 

What the judges said: ‘A mesmerising novel about how silence can reverberate within a family in the aftermath of grief’.  

Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray  

What the author said: ‘More than anything, I wanted to write about climate change. That sense of impending doom is something that feels different to the nuclear threat and gives a tone to the present that is new. Climate change relates to the past, obviously, but dwelling on its origins aren’t going to help us. We really need to find a new way of being to get through it and we haven’t found a way yet of doing that. In short, what I’m interested is in not so much the past coming back, but the ways it obscures the present and stops us from embracing the future.’ 

What the judges said: ‘Funny, sad and truthful. The characters, with their myriad flaws and problems, are unforgettable’.  

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray