Guest Post by Kevin Brown
Paul Lynch’s 2023 Booker-prize-winning novel, Prophet Song, is timely and bleak. In a modern-day Ireland, the new government has passed laws that give them the power to clamp down on dissent, imprisoning and disappearing anyone who disagrees with them. That includes Larry, a leader of the teachers’ union, and, more importantly, Eilish’s husband.
Lynch follows Eilish and her four children as they try to hold their life together after Larry is arrested and the country slowly devolves into martial law, leading to a violent rebellion. Lynch mirrors this closing in by writing the novel without paragraph breaks, hemming the reader in, much as the Dubliners he writes about become increasingly trapped.
For much of the novel, Eilish tries to hold her family together by pretending their life is normal: she continues to take baby Ben to daycare, get the older kids to school, care for her father who is suffering from dementia. Even as some people leave the country, something Eilish’s sister who lives in Canada is willing to help Eilish and the family do, Eilish continues working to keep up a normal life. Ultimately, though, the conflict takes its toll on the family, which begins to fracture.
There’s no way to read this novel without thinking of the current rise of fascist or fascist-like leaders, despite the reader only seeing the result of decisions, not the politicians in charge. Sinclair Lewis titled a novel It Can’t Happen Here, which is how Eilish feels, but Lynch makes it abundantly clear what happens when people think that way.
Prophet Song by Paul Lynch. Oneworld, 2023.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite