Prophet Song

What I learned from… ‘Prophet Song’ by Paul Lynch

Prophet SongAbout the book

On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack answers her front door to find the GNSB on her step. Two officers from Ireland’s newly formed secret police are here to interrogate her husband, a trade unionist.

Ireland is falling apart. The country is in the grip of a government turning towards tyranny and when her husband disappears, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare logic of a society that is quickly unravelling.

How far will she go to save her family? And what – or who – is she willing to leave behind?

What I learned

* A few spoilers ahead *

Prophet Song is a dystopian novel set in an Ireland slowly slipping into totalitarianism. It’s told without paragraph breaks or dialogue quotation marks, which adds to the incredibly claustrophobic atmosphere of the book. It’s an intense, immersive read to say the least.

We follow the central character of Eilish Stack, who’s husband is ‘disappeared’ at the start of the book. Eilish is left to shepherd her children through everyday life under an increasingly totalitarian regime, then in a warzone. Lynch expertly shows us the banality of everyday life and Eilish’s struggles to maintain it in the face of a world gone mad. As bombs drop, she’s still trying to maintain some sense of normality – keeping the fridge stocked, trying to soothe a newborn baby, cleaning the kitchen. We are Eilish’s eyes as she confronts danger, loss of hope and tragedy; just one piece of personal trauma among millions – some sketched out in the background – as Ireland falls under the jackboot.

The winter rain falls lush and cold, the passing days held numb within the rain so that it seems to mask time’s passing, each day giving to faceless day until the winter is at full bloom. A strange, unsettled air has filed the house. It came with the two men who called to the door and has worked its way throughout their home, this feeling now as though some unity within the family has begun to unravel. Larry working late into the night and in the mornings he is irritable and withdrawn, moving it seems within some quiet savagery, his hands tense, his body seeming to tighten as though under the influence of some great screwing pressure.

The story moves slowly, then incredibly quickly in the last third. All of the political machinations happen off stage – we don’t know the exact nature of this new Irish regime – so we’re left only with the perspective of Eilish in her small part of Dublin. Because Lynch cleverly keeps the reader in the dark about the nature of the regime, it seems more frightening. There are no ‘rules’ set in place, so anything can happen. It’s a great lesson in the power of withholding information from the reader.

The book is relentlessly bleak and reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. By the end of the first chapter, I realised that there would be no happy ending, and no reuniting of Eilish and her missing husband Larry. And that was fine. I was set for a grim ride, and that’s exactly what I got. And sometimes that’s what I need. The book is a very successful warning, playing into fears of the world we know falling apart, seen through incredibly well portrayed the eyes of a devoted mother and her children as they are slowly crushed under the wheel.

More about this book

Published in 2023 by Oneworld

Prophet Song at Oneworld

Paul Lynch on X

About ‘What I learned…’

I read anything and everything and think there’s writing inspiration to take from from books of every genre.

Read all reviews



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *