Spotlight on “Prophet Song” by Paul Lynch

by LitStack Editor

Winner of the Booker Prize 2023

Prophet Song and author Paul Lynch

About Prophet Song

An Irish town up against a radical right-wing party, Prophet Song is a haunting and harrowingly modern tale that resonates with so much of the present sociopolitical landscape. Written in gorgeous lyrical prose with tangible stakes that feel all-too real, this is a read that appeals across audiences, a real masterclass of storytelling.

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

Ireland is falling apart, caught in the grip of a government turning towards tyranny. As the life she knows and the ones she loves disappear before her eyes, Eilish must contend with the dystopian logic of her new, unraveling country. How far will she go to save her family? And what—or who—is she willing to leave behind?

Exhilarating, terrifying and surprisingly intimate, Prophet Song offers a shocking vision of a country at war and a deeply human portrait of a mother’s fight to hold her family together.

Editorial Reviews for Prophet Song

Publisher’s Weekly

An Irish family is shattered by the rise of a radical right-wing party in this slow-burning dystopian novel from Lynch (Grace). In the near future, Ireland is governed by the National Alliance Party, an eerily totalitarian mutation of nationalist politics dating back to the Troubles. Their leaders employ a militant secret police force, which rounds up trade unionist Larry Stack after he participates in a protest march. Larry’s four children assume he’s been killed along with others “disappeared” by the NAP, but his wife, Eilish, is in denial and refuses to consider leaving for somewhere safer. 

Lynch renders Eilish’s inner world with relentless blocks of page-long paragraphs, unbroken even during conversations with her father, Simon, who, in his dementia, often blurs past and present (he describes NAP “thugs” as “trouble,” suggesting they are reminiscent of IRA soldiers). Some of this might be lost on readers unfamiliar with the history. Still, the momentum of the prose lends an air of portentousness to the narrative until Eilish’s denial finally crumbles as she claims the body of one of her sons, who has been tortured to death, from a military hospital. Readers well-versed in the context will find Lynch’s vision painfully plausible.

From the Publisher:

As Ireland devolves into a brutal police state, one woman tries to preserve her family in this stark fable.

For Eilish Stack, a molecular biologist living with her husband and four children in Dublin, life changes all at once and then slowly worsens beyond imagining. Two men appear at her door one night, agents of the new secret police, seeking her husband, Larry, a union official. Soon he is detained under the Emergency Powers Act recently pushed through by the new ruling party, and she cannot contact him. 

Eilish sees things shifting at work to those backing the ruling party. The state takes control of the press, the judiciary. Her oldest son receives a summons to military duty for the regime, and she tries to send him to Northern Ireland. He elects to join the rebel forces and soon she cannot contact him, either. His name and address appear in a newspaper ad listing people dodging military service. Eilish is coping with her father’s growing dementia, her teenage daughter’s depression, the vandalizing of her car and house. 

Then war comes to Dublin as the rebel forces close in on the city. Offered a chance to flee the country by her sister in Canada, Eilish can’t abandon hope for her husband’s and son’s returns. Lynch makes every step of this near-future nightmare as plausible as it is horrific by tightly focusing on Eilish, a smart, concerned woman facing terrible choices and losses. 

An exceptionally gifted writer, Lynch brings a compelling lyricism to her fears and despair while he marshals the details marking the collapse of democracy and the norms of daily life. His tonal control, psychological acuity, empathy, and bleakness recall Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). And Eilish, his strong, resourceful, complete heroine, recalls the title character of Lynch’s excellent Irish-famine novel, Grace (2017).

Praise for Prophet Song

Captivating, frightening, and a singular achievement.—Kirkus Reviews

“If there was ever a crucial book for our current times, it’s Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song…A brilliant, haunting novel.”—Guardian (UK)

“An exceptionally gifted writer, Lynch brings a compelling lyricism to [Eilish’s] fears and despair while he marshals the details marking the collapse of democracy and the norms of daily life. His tonal control, psychological acuity, empathy, and bleakness recall Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) . . . Captivating, frightening, and a singular achievement.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Irish writer Lynch (Beyond the Sea, 2020) conveys the creeping horror of a fascist catastrophe in a gorgeous and relentless stream of consciousness illuminating the terrible vulnerability of our loved ones, our daily lives, and social coherence. Eilish muses over the fragility of the body, its rhythms and flows, diseases and defenses. The body politic is just as assailable. A Booker Prize finalist, Lynch’s hypnotic and crushing novel tracks the malignant decimation of an open society, a bleak and tragic process we enact and suffer from over and over again.”—Booklist, Starred Review

“A masterclass in empathy, offering a bird’s eye view of the steady crushing of one’s ability to live somewhere safely, the dismantling of ordinary life by tyranny. I hope everyone reads this.”—Suzanne Harrington, The Irish Examiner

“Utterly believable… compassionate, propulsive and timely.”—Financial Times (UK)

“Chillingly plausible.”—Irish Times

“A tremendous achievement.”—Irish Examiner

“Lynch does an excellent job of showing just how swiftly — and plausibly — a society like ours could collapse. Certain sequences read like a thriller — readers will find themselves literally holding their breath — while others are rendered in beautiful, lyrical prose…. A devastating portrait.”—Independent (IE)

“In his typically lyrical, lulling style, Lynch pulls off a masterstroke.”—Big Issue

“A book of encroaching terror… Darkly lyrical, rich… affecting”—Telegraph (UK)

“Timely and unforgettable . . . It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a novelist to capture the social and political anxieties of our moment so compellingly.”—The Booker Prize 2023 judges

“A superb novel . . . one of the best I’ve read in years.”—Deadly Pleasures

“I haven’t read a book that has shaken me so intensely in many years… The comparisons are inevitable – Saramago, Orwell, McCarthy – but this novel will stand entirely on its own.”—Colum McCann, author of Apeirogon

“Surely one of the most important novels of this decade.”—Ron Rash, author of Serena

“Monumental… you remember why fiction matters. It’s hard to recall a more powerful novel in recent years.”—Samantha Harvey, author of The Western Wind

“The work of a master novelist, Prophet Song is a stunning, midnight vision whose themes are at once ancient and all too timely: fear, complicity, resistance, and what becomes of us when hell rises to our homeland.”—Rob Doyle, author of Threshold

“It was gripping and chilling, and terribly prescient – a novel with a darkly important message about this particular moment in time.”—Sara Baume, author of Spill Simmer Falter Wither

“Part cautionary-tale; part dystopian-nightmare; part fever dream. Whichever way you skin it, there is no denying the gathering power of Paul Lynch’s writing. This is at once fearless and affecting prose with a ticking clock inevitability and a clanging bell pay-off. Both urgent jolt and slow furnace, Prophet Song takes you to the edge of the chasm and insists that you look down. A masterclass in terror and dread.”—Alan McMonagle, author of Ithaca

About Paul Lynch, Author of Prophet Song

Prophet Song

Paul Lynch is the author of the novels Red Sky in Morning, The Black Snow, Grace, and Beyond the Sea. Grace won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2018 and was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing 2018. The Black Snow won France’s Prix Libr’à Nous for Best Foreign Novel and was a finalist for the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book Prize). He lives in Dublin with his wife and two children.  You can find and follow Paul Lynch on his website, and on Facebook.

Titles by Paul Lynch

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