“Prophet Song” Staff Review by Sarah Smith, Adult Services
I think you should read “Prophet Song” by Paul Lynch. Not because it is critically acclaimed or the winner of the 2023 Booker Prize. And not because I think you’ll enjoy reading it. I think you should read this book because it was a profoundly moving experience for me, and you might also appreciate reading a book that challenges you to deeply consider the fragility of life.
If you follow the news, you will be able to guess where Lynch’s story is going. Whether comparing events to the recent war in Ukraine, the current conflict between Israel and Gaza, the collapse of Syria, or countless other tragedies, the larger plot of “Prophet Song” is clear. But this isn’t a grand tale of battles and politics and strategy. It is the small story of one family caught in the turbulence and destruction.
The majority of the novel is told from the perspective of Eilish, a middle-aged project manager and mother of four who lives in Dublin, Ireland, with her husband Larry, an official in the national teacher’s union. They are an unremarkable family with daily routines and worries that will feel familiar to many readers. Average people with average lives that slowly come unraveled in the face of horrors much larger than any one individual. As a reader, you will be deeply, almost claustrophobically, embedded inside of Eilish’s experience, which at times has the frustration of a horror movie as you scream, “No! Don’t do that!”
“Prophet Song” takes place in an imagined near-future, where Ireland’s government slowly turns on its own citizens, sparking a deadly civil war. The despair that you feel as the situation in Ireland becomes more and more dire for Eilish and her family can be overwhelming, but it also makes for a compelling page-turner. There is a stream of consciousness feel to the narration that adds to the intensity, but also sometimes makes events a bit confusing to follow.
This is a story of grief. It is a warning. It is a witness. Terrible things happen in this book; some are left to the imagination, and some are told in graphic detail. But worst of all, you know that the events of this story are all too nightmarishly plausible. That real human beings on this planet today experience events very like those of this book.
I think it is valuable to read “Prophet Song” without knowing too many details before you start. But please be aware that some sections are very graphic and upsetting. If you have concerns about the book’s contents, I am happy to answer your questions on specifics.
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