Susan Midalia's Review
Paul Lynch’s fourth novel is one of four Irish novels recently longlisted for the Booker Prize. It begins with the arrival of two policemen at the home of married couple Larry and Eilish Stack. The police are politely intent on questioning Larry, a teacher and trade unionist involved in organising a national teachers’ strike. The reference to the establishment of the Emergency Powers Act suggests that the setting is 1970s Dublin, but before long we are plunged into a dystopia of police abductions, the systematic deprivation of citizens’ liberties, and a new regime of brutal military power.
As its title suggests, the novel prophesies the advent of a fascist Ireland, and it’s a bleak, terrifying, heartbreaking read. Its narrative and emotional centre is Eilish, who, in the absence of her abducted husband, must try to ensure the safety of her four children and an elderly father in the early stages of dementia.
The novel creates a powerful sense of immediacy by letting dialogue between characters blend into another, and by the seamless movement between Eilish’s thoughts and actions. Above all, Prophet Song is concerned with the conflict between the choice to resist tyranny and the choice to survive, and what might be suffered in the process.
On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack answers her front door to find the GNSB on her doorstep. Two officers from Ireland's newly formed secret police want to speak with her husband, Larry, a trade unionist for the Teachers' Union of Ireland. Things are falling apart. Ireland is in the grip of a government that is taking a turn towards tyranny. And as the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare logic of a collapsing society assailed by unpredictable forces beyond her control and forced to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.
Exhilarating, terrifying, propulsive and confrontational, Prophet Song is a work of breathtaking originality and devastating insight, a novel that can be read as a parable of the present, the future and the past.