The Irish writer Paul Lynch’s fifth book, “Prophet Song,” has taken home this year’s Booker Prize. Upon winning the medal, Lynch said, “Well, there goes my hard-won anonymity.” The award is for 50,000 pounds, or roughly $63,000.
The work depicts the rise of fascism in Ireland and centres on the actions of Eilish Stack, a scientist and mother of four, following her husband’s arrest by the secret police for questioning. Stack is an important figure in the teachers union. The writing style closely follows Eilish’s perspective, and the lack of quote marks and paragraph breaks adds to the sense of claustrophobic dread.
The social and political concerns of our day are captured in Lynch’s novel. Readers will find it to be both real and soul-shattering, and they won’t soon forget its cautions, according to Esi Edugyan, chair of this year’s Booker Prize judging panel.
Lynch was on this year’s shortlist for the prize, which is given out yearly to a longform work of fiction published in Britain and Ireland, along with three other novelists with the first name Paul. He was the fifth Irish novelist to receive the prize in its history, and one of four Irish writers that were longlisted this year. (The Northern Irish author Anna Burns won in 2018 for her extremely sparsely paragraphed dark reflection on tyranny, “Milkman”).
The speculative political thriller “Prophet Song” is a departure from Lynch’s previous writing, which was primarily pastoral historical books set in Western Ireland. His first novel, “Red Sky in Morning,” was about a tenant farmer in the 19th century. He then wrote “The Black Snow,” about a cattle farmer in 1945, and “Grace,” about two siblings who were trying to escape the Irish Famine. The story of “Beyond the Sea,” which is set in a more modern setting, finds its two South American characters stranded in the Pacific Ocean after an earthquake.
According to a recent article Lynch published for the Guardian, he spent four years crafting “Prophet Song,” keeping in mind current events like as Brexit and the emergence of nationalism in Europe. However, he stated that he had no intention of writing a political or overtly “speculative” work, asking, “How can such a novel be speculative when what is happening on these pages belongs to the here and now?”
The judges met on Saturday to make their six-hour decision. At a press conference on Sunday, Edugyan stated that while the decision was not made together, “it was really a very collegial discussion.”
The judges also wanted the winning novel to have a sense of timelessness, and “Prophet Song” fit the bill, she said, even though Lynch’s book might seem particularly topical or timely. “It deals with timeless themes of repression, that impulse to always save one’s family, familial love, having to endure during difficult times. Obviously, these are themes that we’re seeing on a grand scale playing out in the world politically today, but that wasn’t the driving, central discussion of this book. It was more about what the book was doing on its own terms.”
On December 12th, “Prophet Song” will be released in the US.
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