Prophet Song, Paul Lynch, Ireland, 2023

Prophet Song, Paul Lynch, Ireland, 2023

Winner of the 2023 Booker Prize, this is an amazingly beautiful, yet completely devastating, book; a book that latches on to you and cannot be put down until the last page. It will remain with you, altering the way you look at conflict and tragedy, forcing you to step into those war-torn places that previously were no more than disturbing images on a sanitized screen.


A right-wing party has come to power in Ireland and people are seeing their freedoms, together with relatives and friends, disappear, sucked up by the GNSB (the Garda National Services Bureau). The book centres on Eilish Stack and her four children. Eilish’s husband, Larry, deputy general of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, disappears early in the book, and Eilish is left, trying to believe that Larry is still alive and will be coming home to her. She attempts to remain positive while everything around her is telling her that there is no point. Like a mother hen, she puts all her energy into protecting her children who seem unable to understand that it was not she who caused the situation in the first place and that she has no special power to bring their father back home. Her sister, living in Canada, wants her to leave Ireland, but she asks herself what will happen when Larry returns and there is no one at home.

The writing, evocative of Saramago with no quotation marks and extremely long paragraphs is poetic and hauntingly beautiful:

‘She finds herself wishing for a stop to spring, for the day’s decrease, for the trees to go blind again, for the flowers to be taken back into the earth, for the world to be glassed to winter.’

‘Somewhere in the dark of her body a candle is burning for him but when she seeks the candle to light out past her body she meets only darkness.’

Paul Lynch (

Painting a grim picture of society disintegrating, Lynch pinpoints the violence and the evil lurking close to the surface of modern-day politics everywhere. For many of us, strife and discord are synonymous with ‘elsewhere’; in Prophet Song Lynch allows Ireland to stand for ‘anywhere’, forcing the reader to experience the confusion, the anguish and the heartbreak that can never be properly communicated on the nightly news.

‘… what is sung by the prophets is but the same song sung across time, the coming of the sword, the world devoured by fire, the sun gone down into the earth at noon and the world cast into darkness, the fury of some god incarnate in the mouth of the prophet raging at the wickedness that will be cast out of sight, and the prophet sings not of the end of the world but of what has been done and what will be done and what is being done to some but not others, that the world is always ending over and over again in one place but not another and that the end of the world is always a local event, it comes to your country and visits your town and knocks on the door of your house and becomes to others but some distant warning, a brief report on the news, an echo of events that has passed into folklore.’

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