Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

Alison’s Take

Finally, a Booker longlist nominee which I can absolutely see on the shortlist! This year’s longlist has been underwhelming so far – lots of perfectly fine books, but short on mind-blowing ones. Prophet Song is here to change that experience for me.

Something’s happening in Ireland: slow and creeping changes to their way of life, a declaration of emergency, and an unsettling lurch to something more extreme. But it’s doable until it accelerates, and Eilish’s husband Larry disappears, scooped up by the regime for his work in the teachers’s union. A swift move to control and war follows, and Eilish is trapped in figuring out what to do, to save her children and father, and not give up on Larry.

This is brilliant. This is a nice alternative to the usual dystopia, targeting labour and expanding from there. The story is told in a rush of consciousness reflecting Eilish’s thoughts, and the hectic, disjointed sentences really build the tension. The story is less focused on how the regime came to power, but this works since we’re so focused on Eilish just trying to get through each day. The fear and anguish Lynch conveys in the final parts is so well-done, that it took my breath away on multiple levels. Loved loved loved it.

Clementine’s Take

Eilish is a married mother of four living in Dublin. When the police come to her door looking for her husband Larry, she is perturbed. The police accuse Larry of inciting seditious thought through his work as a trade unionist. And then, Larry disappears – and the entire country becomes a war zone. There are no such thing as civil liberties; people disappear without a trace. Eilish must keep it together for her children, ranging in age from a baby to two teenagers, while also caring for her ailing father and hoping that she will one day see Larry again.

This wasn’t one that initially jumped out to me when the longlist was announced. I really like dystopian fiction when done right, but I often find it basic and underdeveloped, so I try not to get my hopes up. This novel was a pleasant surprise – I liked it a lot! Lynch wisely chooses to focus on the everydayness of Eilish’s life, which means there isn’t a need for robust worldbuilding. What we do understand about the broader society is convincing, maybe chillingly so; like the best dystopian literature, the conditions that have led to this fascist collapse are too familiar for comfort. As a union gal myself, I greatly appreciated the suggestion that labour organizers are a major threat to the state’s interests. It’s rare that dystopian fiction engages with economics and labour – what a treat!The writing really elevates this novel; it’s lyrical but not overworked, with long sentences that approximate Eilish’s frantic thoughts. There’s a slow, building tension, an atmosphere first of unease and then of panic – the last little bit had me absolutely mad with fear! This is, above all else, a small personal story taking place amidst the backdrop of catastrophe. It is the story of children losing their innocence and a mother who cannot protect them. It is a depiction of what happens to the people who are left to live in the banality that exists amidst disaster. Well-imagined, stunningly written, fully realized.

Should it be on the shortlist? I think so! Let’s get some genre fiction on there!


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. His website is www.paullynchwriter.com.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Atlantic Monthly Press (Dec 22 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0802163017
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0802163011

 -- Website

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.

Clementine Oberst is a Ph.D. candidate specializing in television studies. Born and raised in Toronto, she has lived in Montreal and Glasgow and now calls Hamilton home. When she isn't writing her dissertation, Clementine can be found knitting, trying to cultivate a green thumb, and playing with her cats. She loves nothing more than losing herself in a good book. You can connect with her on Instagram @clementinereads.