Paul Lynch – Prophet Song (2023)

Relentless and unforgiving; a whirlwind of a novel about a country on the brink of totalitarianism.

Paul Lynch – Prophet Song (2023)

April 2024 • Fiction

Paul Lynch was asked, during an event organised in Amsterdam, to read the first paragraph of his Booker Prize-winning novel, Prophet Song. Happily obliging, he read that first paragraph: a sprawling, vivid text spanning multiple pages, setting the stage for the totalitarian version of Ireland we're about to meet, painting a picture of the moment Eilish Stack's life starts to unravel, and introducing us to his relentless style of writing.

On a wet, dark evening in Dublin, Eilish Stack (a scientist and mother of four) learns that the Irish secret police is looking for her husband and immediately we — the reader — are placed right there with her. We never know more than she does, and her fear, her disorientation and her adrenaline becomes ours.

As she tries to take care of her children and her demented father, and attempts to find her missing husband, I could feel the grip of totalitarian Ireland tightening around my throat while I read, the novel becoming ever more claustrophobic as its pages flew by.

That same evening in Amsterdam, Lynch mentioned that he always tries to find the music when writing a book — a certain flow or rhythm that fits the story he's creating and can carry forward the words on the book's pages like a wave.

When reading Prophet Song a few months ago, the music I found inside it was fast-paced, raw and unforgiving; metallic (but not metal), industrial and cold — some freakish amalgamation of Fontaines D.C., The Cure, and IDLES comes to mind.

Right from the get-go, the book swept me up and carried me forward, not on a wave but on a waterfall, hurling me forward and forward and forward and spitting me out with a thunderous splash at the other end, disoriented, disheveled and impressed.

If you've seen Children of Men, you'll remember the one-take car scene, which is what I keep coming back to as a visual reference for this book (as I write this, I realise it must be a matter of time before someone, somewhere buys the rights to turn it into a limited series, if they haven't already).

Tyrannical governments, crumbling societies, devastating violence, migrant crises: Prophet Song touches upon large themes and does well to capture social and political concerns currently felt around the world. One could argue, as Benjamin Markovits did, that the political crisis at the heart of the book isn't fleshed out entirely satisfactory, but the book is less interested in the question of “(how) could it happen here”. Rather, “would you know when to leave?”.

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch
Published by Oneworld Publications in 2023

One book recommendation, once per month.
Book #15 • April 2024