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The world we encounter in Paul Lynch’s 2023 Booker Prize Winner, Prophet Song is familiar, traumatic, and terrifying. And it could so easily become reality, is indeed already real for millions of people.

The power of Paul Lynch’s writing creates a gripping narrative, at once both repulsive and compelling. His ability to build tension on the page almost imperceptibly, like the dark undercurrent of a bad dream, is consummate. By focussing on the plight of one woman and revealing the breakdown of society as she experiences it, disparate and implacable, the storytelling is unsettlingly authentic.

It may not make for good bedtime reading but Prophet Song is likely to become a seminal novel for the 21st century.

Prophet Song, 2023 Booker Prize Winner

Synopsis of Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

In the grip of Dublin’s ever more authoritarian government, the secret police arrest trade unionist Larry Stack, and he effectively disappears. Left alone with her four children and an overwhelming sense of loss and confusion, Larry’s wife Eilish, tries to find out what has happened to her husband. Against the backdrop of a society ripped apart by suspicion, betrayal and recrimination, Eilish fights to keep her fractious family together and maintain some sense of normality while also battling to keep her own body and soul together.

Like throwing a pebble into a pond, Prophet Song follows the ripples that radiate outward from each incident as it happens; the inevitable consequences of Larry going ahead with a planned march despite the warnings issued to him by the secret police; the white lies Eilish tells her son, Bailey about where their dad is because she thinks he’s too young to understand; the way Larry’s detention affects Eilish’s status at work and in her neighbourhood as she becomes guilty by association.

This societal dismantling is all too familiar from our history books detailing the rise of Nazi Germany, but Paul Lynch refines and updates it, bringing its subtleties and threats to our lives today, and right to our doorstep.

As Eilish struggles to hang onto any semblance of normality for her children, we watch as helplessly as she does, slowly realising that the forces of evil she faces cannot be defeated by stoicism, integrity, or tenacity. Slowly but inexorably, everything begins to disintegrate and when it does, there is a heavy price to pay.

My review

When a novel wins the Booker Prize, you know there’s going to be something extraordinary about it, and Prophet Song does not disappoint. I had heard such good things about this book that I refused to wait for the paperback and bought Jack a hardback copy as part of his Christmas present. I’m very glad I did.

It may not have made for comfortable reading, but Prophet Song should, in my opinion, be read widely and imminently. For this is a story of what happens when a regime becomes power-crazed, operating under a cloak of secrecy and intimidation while dictating the narrative to support its own preservation and power.

The most frightening thing is, once it has started, I don’t know how we stop it.


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