Prophet Song

by Paul Lynch

Hardcover, 2023

Call number

FIC LYN

Publication

Atlantic Monthly Press (2023), 320 pages

Description

"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 toward 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"--… (more)

Media reviews

With his winding, dread-filled sentences and without paragraph breaks, Lynch plunges readers into this nightmare and scarcely provides any space to breathe....At times, the novel's relentless bleakness made it almost unbearable to read. And yet its plausibility kept me from looking away....The
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lesson for readers is not necessarily to wake up to signs of totalitarianism knocking at our doors, but to empathize with those for whom it has already called.
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5 more
Lynch stays deliberately vague, partly so that the story can serve as a more general allegory, but there’s a cost to the allegory, too. Without an emergency, without any kind of immediate history, it’s hard to understand what the nationalists are fighting for ... This is not a funny book;
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it’s fairly relentless, even before things go haywire. I wouldn’t have minded a little more acceptable, less intense life ... Lynch’s decision to leave the political context blank starts to pay off. What’s happening to Eilish opens out into a much larger and older story of displacement, as she struggles to find a passage with whatever family she has left into something like civilization.
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His story about the modern-day ascent of fascism is so contaminated with plausibility that it’s impossible not to feel poisoned by swelling panic ... Eilish is a carefully-drawn portrait of affection and grit ... [A] relentless novel. It’s written in the grammar of dread. The sentences cascade
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from one to the next without so much as a moment’s breath. And with no paragraph breaks to cling to, every page feels as slippery as the damp walls of a torture chamber. I have not read such a disturbing novel since Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which won the Booker Prize almost 10 years ago.
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Booklist
Irish writer Lynch 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
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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.
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I don’t know when I last read a book that left me as shaken and disturbed as Paul Lynch’s fifth novel. It is a tremendous achievement, telling a dark story of a society’s descent into war that resonates far beyond Ireland....This is one of the most important novels of 2023....Paul Lynch is a
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fearless writer — unafraid of taking on large themes and tackling them face to face. The story recounts a mother’s experience of life in suburban Dublin, as it is transformed by a tyrannical government into a war zone. While it is Irish in detail, its events recall those seen nightly on the news....Prophet Song is an extraordinary achievement, totally realistic, demonstrating the power of fiction to enhance our empathy for those elsewhere, living through horrors beyond our everyday experience., witnessed only on the TV screen.
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With Ireland under tyranny, rebels must decide between family and liberty in this brilliant, Booker-longlisted story for our times... Free will and the meaning of liberty are pushed beyond their limits, eroding both to a state of near non-existence. It begins in Dublin as Larry, a senior trade
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unionist, is disappeared at a rally, leaving his wife, Eilish, to raise their four children....Lynch’s message is crystal clear: lives the world over are experiencing upheaval, violence, persecution. Prophet Song is a literary manifesto for empathy for those in need and a brilliant, haunting novel that should be placed into the hands of policymakers everywhere.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member PaulCranswick
Cormac McCarthy passed away this year but his spirit lives on in the visceral writing of Paul Lynch. The landscape is different with the lanes and houses of Dublin replacing the Badlands of the US but the human concerns are the same.

This is a book that is painful but rewarding to read. It is a book
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with a voice that demands to be heard - a voice decrying state overreach, the loss of liberty, inhumanity, oppression, the feral greed of conflict, the importance of human kindness and familial togetherness. It is a book without a proper end although there is a watershed of sorts. It is a book that chilled me to the bone severally and had little in the way of lightness about it. It is a book that forced you to read in chunks by its very structure. It is a book to be moved by and to remember.

I don't know whether this book will win the Booker, and I suspect it probably will not, but I do believe that it will outlive whatever does go on to win and it will certainly stay with me long after I came weeping to the end.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This book was pretty much the enactment of all my fears about what would happen if we lose our democracy. I don't usually read dystopian literature, and after this, it will be a long time before I read another. Don't get me wrong--I'm NOT bashing this book. It took me a while to get into it, but
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once things went from disturbing to downright harrowing, I couldn't put it down.

The novel is set in Ireland in a time the government has labelled "the crisis." In the opening chapter, two Garda (policemen) arrive at the home of Eilish and Larry, a couple with four children ranging in age from an infant to 16. Larry isn't home, but they ask Eilish to have him come down to the station the next day. Larry is a top officer in the Teacher's Union. He goes to the station but never returns.

The situation is bad for everyone, and it only gets worse. Employers are pressed to get rid of anyone the government has a beef with, people start disappearing off the street, lawyers are afraid to represent anyone with a complaint against the government, civil rights are suspended, food supplies are short, protesters are shot and beaten to death, strict curfews are enacted, boys as young as 16 are taken out of school and conscripted into the military. And Eilish is left to fend for herself and her children and the father across town who is falling into senility.

I won't say more as I don't want to spoil the book for anyone else, but the last few chapters are among the most heartbreaking and horrifying that I have ever read. Anyone who thinks that our country needs a strong man dictator and suspension of our Constitutional rights in order to "save" this country should read it (since obviously they never read their world history books in school). It's beautifully written, mainly from Eilish's point of view.
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LibraryThing member dianelouise100
Prophet Song, on the Shortlist for the 2023 Booker Award, was a reading experience I hope never to repeat. Don’t get me wrong—it’s an outstanding novel and may be the winner. But I was so swept up into the inner life of the main character that her struggles and terror and frustration became
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my own. It is Lynch’s style, mainly his sentence structure that achieves this, a style that I found very annoying at first, but whose purpose (and effectiveness) I soon had to acknowledge. For me being critical is sometimes a defense mechanism, and had I not really wanted to finish this novel, I would have given it up.

It is set in a future Ireland, ruled by an ultra conservative party intent on establishing a totalitarian state. Eilish Stack, in whose mind we live during the course of the novel, is in a terrible dilemma. The plot begins in earnest when her husband, a labor union leader, is “detained” by the government for his pro-union activities. Eilish is left with the responsibility of keeping her four children safe, as her hope of her husband’s ever coming home gradually diminishes. She also has the problem of caring for her elderly father whose dementia worsens over the course of the novel. Eilish is a very intelligent, capable, decisive woman, a trained scientist, and watching the effects on her mind of grief and growing awareness of her own lack of agency was for me the most frightening aspect of a very frightening novel.

This novel is timely and brilliantly written; I can’t do otherwise than recommend it.
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LibraryThing member kjuliff
Descent into Chaos

Eilish’s story in her own thoughts and words describes a descent from normal living in suburbia through the hell of civil war, rocket bombardments, to fleeing through exponentially more horrifying scenarios.

Eilish and her family have lived a middle class (English definition)
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life in democratic Ireland when there is the start of political unrest. The buildup to the finale starts slowly. The unrest. Small limitations on individual liberties. Larger ones. Stasi tactics. Until the State takes over into full Fascism followed by an insurgency whose actions end up no better than that of the regime it replaced.

The pace speeds up. One of the children has left to join the rebels. With her husband already “ disappeared”, Eilish eventually decides to flee. Her suburb now a battleground. .

It could be anywhere in the last hundred years. Syria, Afghanistan, Nazi Germany, Ukraine, Gaza. Lynch has set hisnovel in Ireland, but like Study for Obedience, another 2023 Booker nomination, it doesn’t matter what county. It could be anywhere.

What was the last book I read that told such a harrowing tale? I knew there was one, but it was only, as is my habit after finishing Prophet Song that I read the reviews, and found the book.
“I have not read such a disturbing novel since Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North” - Charles, Washington Post.

Eilish with her remaining children, one with a shrapnel wound pass checkpoint after bribing checkpoint in search first for a hospital for her wounded son, the book reaches one of its most memorable climaxes. Eilish gets an offer to drive her to a hospital after finding the one she’s spent days crawling through rubble to find, is full. She offer is made by a man dressed as a clown, with the full hair and makeup and long shiny red shoes. He has a hospital pass for the next hospital. She accepts.

We are in Gothic mode now. They - Eilish and her children are in the car.

“He has lifted a leg to reveal a large red patent shoe with bows for laces and puts his foot down and brings his fist to his mouth and puffs a cloud of red glitter into the front area of the car so for an instant the world has exploded into flickering blood. The red rain falling onto the gears and onto the grease-paint sticks and into the hair on the front seat and she can see now that the man is insane.”

I can’t describe the effect this book had on me. I was wary coming into it, having read that it’s wasn’t a unanimous Booker winner. But I was gob-smacked. I can write no more. This book is going to be with me a long long time.

“Lynch’s message is crystal clear: lives the world over are experiencing upheaval, violence, persecution. Prophet Song is a literary manifesto for empathy for those in need and a brilliant, haunting novel that should be placed into the hands of policymakers everywhere. - Prophet Song by Paul Lynch review – a tale of Dublin’s descent into dystopia is crucial reading” - - Aimée Walsh, The Observer.
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LibraryThing member vancouverdeb
I'll be very surprised if Prophet Song does not get shortlisted for the Booker Shortlist, and I think it is a front - runner for the Booker Prize.

An Emergency Powers Act in Ireland has enabled the Garda National Services Bureau ( GNSB) to have sweeping and tyrannical powers. A knock on door, in the
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night, at Eilish and Larry Stack's door brings the GNSB to interrogate Larry, a trade unionist and teacher. Soon afterwards, Larry disappears, taken by the GNSB. Eilish is left to care for her four children, Mark, Molly, Bailey and Ben, as well as her father, who is suffering from dementia. The Stack children range in age from 17 to an infant. Eilish struggles to keep her children safe in what becomes a violent civil war. Food become scarce, electricity fails,and travelling within the city become a terrifying ordeal as rebel forces and the Irish government clash. Roadblocks are everywhere.

The power of this novel is that this nightmarish scenario could happen anywhere, and is likely how people in countries like Syria, Afghanistan ,and many others have already experienced. A dark, propulsive , engaging read.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Prophet Song is set in modern-day Dublin, where the country’s democratic government has been overtaken by a totalitarian regime. When Eilish’s husband Larry, a trade unionist, is “disappeared,” she must single-handedly hold the family together. Eilish does her best to shield them from
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reality, which is increasingly difficult as violence and destruction become routine. Besides her four children, Eilish is also concerned for her father who lives alone and is beginning to exhibit dementia symptoms.

The situation does not miraculously improve; in fact, the novel is stark and relentless. But Paul Lynch’s writing is masterful, drawing the reader into the story in a deeper way than I have ever experienced. It felt plausible and real–and why shouldn’t it? Similar situations are happening in other countries right now, and we can no longer take western democracy for granted. This is not an enjoyable book, but it is an important one, and a very deserving Booker Prize winner.
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LibraryThing member kewing
This is a dark and harrowing story of a woman (Eilish, who seems linked to Lynch's earlier Grace) desperately trying to hold her family together as civil society collapses around her -- first through politicized repression that takes her husband, then rebellion that takes her oldest son, then civil
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war that takes her home and preteen son, then escape with her young daughter and infant son that takes her identity and casts her adrift into darkness. While the story takes place in Ireland, largely in Dublin, the location could easily be anywhere -- Ukraine, Gaza or the West Bank, Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, wherever the life is threatened. Eilish's plight is that of every woman (and many men) wherever politics are polarized by extremes. The story is universal, the writing challenging and lyrical, the effect haunting -- in sum a superior work that speaks to our times.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This book won the Booker Prize for 2023. It was not a unanimous choice and I can see why. It takes place in modern day Ireland and a new government has come to power and they have passed an emergency power act which gives them sweeping powers. It is the beginning of a descent into totalitarianism.
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The story is about Elish Stack and her family. She is a biologist and her husband Larry is an official in a trade union. We see how their life begins to deteriorate from their comfortable existence as the impacts of the government erode the peoples' rights and eventually descend into a civil war. The book focuses of Elish trying to hold her family together as first her husband Larry and son Mark disappear. She has trouble accepting the situation and keeps believing that things will return to. normal. The books shows the impacts on everyday people as chaos reigns and society falls apart. It is a very disturbing novel but one that shows what people are currently living through in places like Ukraine, Gaza, Haiti, Venezuela etc. It is unrelenting in the horror that Elish faces and is not easy to read but you keep with it for the so called hopeful ending. Doesn't come. Also the style Lynch uses is not easy. There are no punctuations to distinguish between dialogue and non-dialogue. Many authors are using this style. now and in this case it adds to the bleakness of the novel. For me it was a bit off putting and impacted my rating. A worthwhile book for our times and scary as we head into our 2024 election.
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LibraryThing member BeauxArts79
SPOILERS: Upon reaching the end, I couldn't help sensing that I'd witnessed an elaborately dilatory exercise, all designed for the purpose of simply getting the reader to that closing image. And no doubt Lynch thinks himself terribly clever in delivering that ethnic inversion. Unfortunately, if the
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population of the West ends up fleeing in little dingies, there will be no place to flee to.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This novel is set in a sort of present day Dublin, Ireland, except that an authoritarian party has taken charge of the government. Eilish lives a comfortable middle class life with her husband, who works for the Teachers Union, and their three children; a seventeen year old boy, a girl just
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beginning her teenage years and an infant. Things quickly become more difficult for Eilish's family when her husband is arrested in the wake of a teachers's strike. Then her own job becomes less secure, graffiti and petty vandalism appear on their house and car and her son is expected to sign up for military service. As the danger rises, Eilish is stuck between trying to just get through each day, caring for her family alone, caring for her aging father and deciding whether to try to leave.

Paul Lynch's novel takes a situation faced by so many people in so many different countries, and puts it squarely in an affluent Western location. It's definitely a book with a message, but the rising tension and the way Lynch manages to put the reader squarely in Eilish's head means that it doesn't feel ham-fisted. The reader lives with a woman doing the best she can in an untenable situation, feeling her determination to hope for her husband's return, her worry for her oldest son, her daughter's anxiety, her father's ability to cope on his own, her infant son's well-being.

This isn't the most beautifully written novel on the shortlist, although it is well-written, it certainly choses force over subtlety, but there's a lot here to admire.
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LibraryThing member stevesmits
So well-written but so grim... Think Syria, Gaza, Venezuala or wherever political oppression affects everyday lives. In Ireland, a so-called "National Alliance" has promulgated "emergency powers" to suppress opposing voices. The story is told from the perspective of Eilish Stack, a microbiologist
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whose husband Larry was an organizer for the national teachers' union. Larry is detained by the Irish version of the Stasi for "sedition". He is not heard from again. The family has four children ranging from sixteen to a new born. Eilish's father is descending into dementia and she is struggling to support him. Eilish makes futile attempts to locate her husband. She is fired from her job, along with thousands of others, who are deemed as "disloyal" by the regime. (Think Trump and his Magaers if they succeed.)

Their lives mirror the downward spiral of the country. Her teenage son Mark had the opportunity to relocate to Northern Ireland but instead joins the resistence movement in the growing civil war. She has no further contact with him. She grasps at all manner of ways to protect them, scouring for food and caught in the crossfire of the warring sides. Her sister living in Toronto offers a means to escape but she decides not to. Her 12-year-old son is slightly injured but disappears from the hospital and is found by her in a military hospital where he has been tortured and killed.

The three of the remaining family are escorted by smugglers to the border to a boat that is to go where? No happy ending here. Shades of what is happening all across the world. Depressing.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
This dystopic novel is a powerful exposition of events that are all too common in the current and past experience of people around the world. A political regime switches from democracy to autocracy. Despots dupe a significant segment of the population into believing that they are somehow oppressed
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by some minority. In this instance, it is a teacher’s union. Citizens and political leaders turn blind eyes to the subversion of rights. Violence escalates yet is accepted. Some emigrate, while others stay put. Some of the stayers launch a resistance but most just hunker down.

Lynch sets his story in Ireland, a country not without a history of violence and unrest, but one that is now a stable democracy. One would be justified in thinking that the events that unfold in the novel could never happen there. This inconsistency gives his novel a dark and unreal feeling. But the true feeling of horror comes from the close portrayal of his protagonist, Eilish Stack. She follows an arc that would be unbelievable if it were not so common. She is a working scientist in a loving relationship with a politically active teacher. She has a perfectly normal and loving family consisting of four children. This descends into a state of chaos and violence following an authoritarian takeover of the government. Lynch shows her descent slowly and methodically. One is compelled to keep reading this dark tale not just because of its relevance to world events but also to watch a strong women cope with an increasing sense of hopelessness.

The writing is sharp and frequently quite lyrical. The characters, especially Eilish, are well drawn and nuanced. The events depicted, though dark and violent, are totally believable and consistent with the real historical record.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“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
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echo of events that has passed into folklore,”

We are living in turbulent times and it seems at times to be spinning out of control. It is just not here in the states but warning drums are sounding across the globe. In his brilliant, prophetic novel, Mr Lynch captures a terrifying near-future, where his homeland of Ireland falls into the ugly grip of a totalitarian state. The story revolves around one family, especially the mother, who tries desperately to shield her family from the coming storm. A devastating but important read.
Worthy of the Booker Prize.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
This is one of the few Booker Prize winners that I liked. Eilish's family is slowly torn apart when an authoritarian government takes over. First her husband is arrested. Then her oldest son is called up for mandatory service and escapes to join the rebels. As war moves in, another younger son who
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was injured in a bombing raid is kidnapped from the hospital, tortured and killed. At last Eilish decides to flee with her daughter and baby son, but is it too late to escape? This book has elements of 1984. The rule of law and constitutional freedoms are so fragile. And we don't really see what we are losing until it is too late to turn back. Read this with the Rohinga and the Gazans in mind, but even first world countries can be threatened.
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LibraryThing member alanteder
November 26, 2023 Update Prophet Song is the Winner of the 2023 Booker Prize!

Refugees in the West
Review of the upcoming Atlantic Monthly Press hardcover/eBook (December 12, 2023) via the Net Galley Kindle ARC (downloaded November 15, 2023) of the Oneworld Publications (UK) hardcover original
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(August 24, 2023).

Shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize, with the winner to be announced Sunday November 26, 2023.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done;
and there is no new thing under the sun. - Ecclesiastes 1:9

In the dark times
will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times. - Bertolt Brecht
(epigraphs used for “Prophet Song”).

My thanks to publisher Grove/Atlantic and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this preview ARC, in exchange for which I provide this honest review. I did not think I’d get a chance to read this book before the Booker Award announcement, so I was fortunate to receive approval for the ARC in advance the North American publication.

Prophet Song is a speculative, dystopian novel written somewhat in the vein of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can't Happen Here (1935) and Vladimir Nabokov's Bend Sinister (1947). It proposes a fictionalized Nationalist government in present day Ireland which begins to impose an authoritarian control over the populace. In the event this means a crackdown on freedom of speech and movement especially in the case of what is seen as forces opposing the government, such as trade unions and activists.

The seeming unreality of the situation is not the point. The author’s goal is to force readers in the comfort of their Western democracies (by which I mean North American and European) to empathize and appreciate what people and families in authoritarian states worldwide undergo during government and secret police crackdowns, arrests, tortures and executions. This is often leading into civil wars, chaos and societal breakdown and a mass of refugees subject to exploitation by human traffickers.

All of this is embodied in Prophet Song by the example of the family of Eilish and Larry Stack and their 4 children (with a subplot of Eilish’s aging father & his dog). Further details would get into spoiler territory. I should add though that there is an aspect of experimental writing involved as it is often stream-of-consciousness, one paragraph style without benefit of speech quote marks. If you are prepared to accept the style, I think you will find that the writing is so immersive and compulsive that it will carry you along without a problem. You will identify so much with the situation and the terror that the medium will not be a barrier.

Trivia and Link
Read the 2023 Booker Prize Reading Guide for Prophet Song here.
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LibraryThing member runner56
With fond memories of 1984 I was eager the read Prophet song. This is a dark sombre tale of what it could be like to live in a state which no longer allows freee thinking. The family and the life that was and is Eilish Stack begins to disintegrate first with the arrest of her husband, a trade union
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member and much loved teacher, and the ever increasing feeling of strangulation as the new police state strengthens its grip. This was a vey claustopohic read, and yet a difficult book to leave once started. A worthy winner of the 2023 booker prize.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
"The NAP {new government} is trying to change what you and I call reality, they want to muddy it like water if you say one thing is another thing and you say it enough times then it must be so, and if you keep saying it over and over people accept it as true."

One day Eilish, a Dublin mother of four
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who works as a scientist, finds her husband has been taken, presumably arrested, and officials won't tell her anything. There follows an insidious progression of events, some in the background, some in your face. Some people begin leaving, but Eilish can't get a passport for her youngest child, still an infant. She still can't locate her husband and doesn't want to leave until he returns. There are talks of internment camps as more and more are arrested. Then demonstrations at which the government shoots the demonstrators. The government declares a national emergency; habeas corpus is suspended; the government takes control of the judiciary, as well as the media; listening to foreign stations is outlawed; schools are closed; soldiers patrol the streets. Soon bombs are falling. What they said can't happen here has happened here. It's not somewhere faraway that's happening on the news.

Through it all we are focused on Eilish who is desperately trying to hold her family together. But events move beyond her control ("You cannot put a stop to the wind he says and the wind is going to blow right through this country....") as she and one member after the other of her family are affected in ways that will change them forever. The book is written in long sections without paragraphs, without quotation marks so that it is difficult to know when someone is speaking, and who that person might be, and there is scant other punctuation. This means the book requires close reading, we must move right in where Eilish and her family and the people around her are suffering, and suffer along with them. The style of writing is what makes this book so brilliant.

This was a very scary, and I will say prescient book. I look around at a country in which millions are willing to vote for a rapist and psychopathic con man, a man facing 91 felony counts, and a man who has told us what he will do in a second term, which would turn this country into a banana republic with him as King--starting with jailing his political rivals and anyone who has spoken an ill word of him, and I am terrified. The importance of this book is it shows us that yes, it can happen here, and unfortunately millions of people don't seem to care.

I leave you with these quotes from the book:

"it is vanity to think that the world will end during your lifetime in some sudden event, that what ends is your life and only your life, that 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 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 some distant warning, a brief report on the news, an echo of events that has passed into folklore...."

and,

"How could he have known anyhow, how could any of us have known what was going to happen, I suppose other people seemed to know, but I never understood how they were so certain, what I mean is, you could never have imagined it, not in a million years, all that was to happen, and I could never understand those that left, how they could just leave like that, leave everything behind, all that life, all that living, it was absolutely impossible for us to do so at the time and the more I look at it the more it seems there was nothing we could do anyhow..."

Highly recommended.

5 stars
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LibraryThing member Mercef
Bleak, believable and therefore disturbing.
LibraryThing member alanteder
Refugees in the West
Review of the upcoming Atlantic Monthly Press hardcover/eBook (December 12, 2023) via the Net Galley Kindle ARC (downloaded November 15, 2023) of the Oneworld Publications (UK) hardcover original (August 24, 2023).

Shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize, with the winner to be
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announced Sunday November 26, 2023.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done;
and there is no new thing under the sun. - Ecclesiastes 1:9

In the dark times
will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times. - Bertolt Brecht
- epigraphs used for “Prophet Song”.

My thanks to publisher Grove/Atlantic and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this preview ARC, in exchange for which I provide this honest review. I did not think I’d get a chance to read this book before the Booker Award announcement, so I was fortunate to receive approval for the ARC in advance the North American publication.

Prophet Song is a dystopian novel written somewhat in the sense of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here (1935). It proposes a fictionalized Nationalist government in present day Ireland which begins to impose an authoritarian control over the populace. In the event this means a crackdown on freedom of speech and movement especially in the case of what is seen as forces opposing the government, such as trade unions and activists.

The seeming unreality of the situation is not the point. The author’s goal is to force readers in the comfort of their Western democracies (by which I mean North American and European) to empathize and appreciate what people and families in authoritarian states worldwide undergo during government and secret police crackdowns, arrests, tortures and executions. This is often leading into civil wars, chaos and societal breakdown and a mass of refugees subject to exploitation by human traffickers.

All of this is embodied in Prophet Song by the example of the family of Eilish and Larry Stack and their 4 children (with a subplot of Eilish’s aging father & his dog). Further details would get into spoiler territory. I should add though that there is an aspect of experimental writing involved as it is often stream-of-consciousness, one paragraph style without benefit of speech quote marks. If you are prepared to accept the style, I think you will find that the writing is so immersive and compulsive that it will carry you along without a problem. You will identify so much with the situation and the terror that the medium will not be a barrier.

Trivia and Link
Read the 2023 Booker Prize Reading Guide for Prophet Song here.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
As I began reading this novel I thought, I will like this book. I like the family. I like the writing. A nice Irish family, father a teacher, involved in the teachers union. Mother a scientist. A boy and daughter in high school, another preteen son, and the baby. A father, living alone, becoming
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senile.

First, there is some trouble with the state about the union. They have the right, father says. People begin to disappear. The National Guard becomes the new law. The father disappears. The family is targeted. The teenage boy is called up for national service. The daughter is angry, depressed, withdrawn. The preteen boy wets the bed. The mother is left trying to keep the family together, loses her position. The water is brown. Food is scarce. The son joins the resistance. War envelopes the country, the town, the neighborhood. The younger son is wounded.

No country comes to their aid. People become refugees, paying exorbitant costs to be secreted out of the country.

It is terrifying, reading this progression from freedom to fear.

The long sentences, the lack of quotations and paragraph breaks propelled my reading, the story rushing at me like a freight train I could not get off if I wanted to, the sickening, increasing awareness of the horror described too real, too possible, enmeshed in this nightmare that disturbed my dreams. There was no let up, every catastrophe followed by new loss, every hope crushed.

These people did not believe it could happen there, in a land of law, then watched it happen. It happened before and will happen again. And that is what is truly terrifying.

Thanks to the publisher for a free book.
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LibraryThing member wellred2
This was intense and harrowing and I kept yelling at Eilish over her inaction and unwillingness to see what was happening. The ending is a cliffhanger that resolves nothing, but that also makes it perfect.
LibraryThing member hhornblower
A very interesting commentary on modern life, Afghan or Syrian refugees might seem foreign and other worldly; what about if they were Irish?
LibraryThing member Narshkite
This did some things remarkably well, and others less so.

Most Westerners see the possibility of becoming a refugee, of needing to flee for one's life from brutal despotic rule, as something wholly unconnected from their lives We are wrong. It is, of course, entirely possible. Given the turn toward
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nationalism in many Western countries in the past several years it even seems probable. I like the book's foundation, a swift rise to totalitarian violence and resulting civil war in the West (here in Ireland.) It is a chilling prospect and raises many important questions. It asks who we are, what we can and/or should do to stop the descent, and what we would do if we found ourselves suddenly in a country we did not recognize that was trying to kill us. The events here are not dystopian fantasy, they are events happening at this very moment in several places. By hewing close to reality but setting it in the West Lynch forces the reader to confront her vulnerability. So far so good.

I also liked Lynch's choice to write this book using blocks of text with dialogue, dream, observation and reportage glommed together to disorient the reader and induce low-key panic. He eschews paragraphs, quotation marks, even the rules of punctuation. (I am clutching my pearls as I type! It is anarchy!) There is some brilliant writing innovation going on. But all throughout this was a book that I admired more than I enjoyed. This feeling of tension created by the writing style, that sense of the walls closing in, of claustrophobia is good craft. However, using it throughout makes the read one note.

For me the bigger problem was that Lynch left out facts necessary to make the story believable. As mentioned I absolutely believe we could wake up to despotic rule (in fact it looks more likely every day) but despots have rules and scripts that whip people into zealotry. Here Lynch tells us nothing about this party that has swept into power. We know they don't like trade unionists and that they demand absolute compliance and loyalty. That is it. I needed more. And the state's actions make no sense. At the start when they come for what they perceive as the union agitator that was plausible, but they they go after his family, including his teenagers, for no reason, Even stranger, they have a chance to get rid of these people they have decided are undesirable, but they deny a passport to the family's infant son so the family can't leave. Why would they want the family to stay? It is incomprehensible. This all could have been set up at the beginning fairly simply but it was not. As a result, I found this hard to really sink into. I found myself thinking "But why??" a good deal of the time. The book could have been much more substantial if it had been set up correctly, instead swaths of it felt like standard libertarian conspiracy theorist the state is gonna getcha propaganda.

I generally like Booker winners, but there are several in recent years that I respected but could not finish (Milkman and A Brief History of Seven Killings come to mind) so I guess there is precedent. Not a bad book, but not an enduring one either IMO. To be worth my time a book must engage my emotions and my intellect in a satisfying way. This did not.)
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LibraryThing member rmarcin
Terrifying.
This book tells what will happen if we allow authoritarianism to become the norm. Eilish Stack is an Irish wife and mother, and the novel begins with her remembering the knocking. The knocking when 2 cops from the new secret police have come to question her husband, a trade unionist.
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They take him away, as he protests that they can't arrest him for doing his job. She is left to try to protect her family. They try to take her son and she does what she believes is right to protect him. Her young daughter and her baby boy cling to her. Eilish has to make a terrible choice to protect her family.
As you read this, you should think of what is happening in our world, and how this isn't that far from reality if we let democracy fail.
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LibraryThing member alexrichman
My pick for the Booker. Creates an amazing, suffocating atmosphere, slowly building to scenes that deliver a real punch that somehow feel surprising and inevitable at the same time. Not enjoyable but expertly done.

Awards

Booker Prize (Winner — 2023)
Irish Book Award (Nominee — Novel — 2023)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2024)

Pages

320

ISBN

0802163017 / 9780802163011
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