The Ireland of 47 shades of green and the craic of pub music is not in evidence here. Europe’s geopolitics are edging further right, with populist, nationalistic governments. In this epic novel Lynch conjures a very believable slippery slope where a new right-wing Irish Government imposes emergency powers, the police (Gardai) are given the power to detain and interrogate people, the populace have their rights removed and the Irish Republic descends into hell.
Eilish Stack is an academic living with husband, Larry, and children, Mark, Molly, Bailey and the newborn, Ben, in Dublin. Her father resides nearby but is living with dementia. When the Gardai want a word with union organiser Larry, Eilish encourages him to contact them and quickly sort it out. Reluctantly he does … and is never seen again.
When the population stages a resistance against the impositions, running battles ensue. This escalates into civil war and the government forces young men to join its army.
Mark is not yet 17 and Eilish wants to protect him, hiding him in a friend’s house. He disappears to join the resistance, but the deteriorating chaos means he’s unable to be contacted. Molly descends into a stultifying depression, Bailey becomes belligerent, refusing to go to school, and the newbron Ben is too young to understand.
The form of this novel is original. There are no tabbed paragraphs, dialogue isn’t given separate lines or quotation marks and one speaker runs into the next. It seems impenetrable, but counterintuitively, the narrative is fast paced. This form is no accident. Its seeming inaccessibility mirrors that of the government and trying to work out who is speaking echoes the chaos on the streets.
Lynch’s imagery in describing Eilish’s torment is magnificent: ‘Something solid has begun to come loose, it is her heart sliding like gravel.’ Verbs are used in unusual contexts, throwing the reader off balance. Ireland’s greenness is rendered in monochrome. The darkness of the government’s actions becomes a physical entity. Eilish feels the blackness enter her house behind her. Contrastingly, the resistance movement wears white clothes.
The government bombs its own citizens, causing severe casualties, destroyed buildings and supply shortages. Bailey is hit by shrapnel and needs surgery. Eilish’s sister, Áine, in Canada sends money so that Eilish and her family can escape. The situation is becoming intolerable, but with no word of her husband or eldest son and with Bailey lost in the hospital system, she refuses to leave. Can she keep the family together? Can she afford to stay in a country riven by war?
The skillfulness of the writing, and the style and scope of Prophet Song, are breathtaking.
Reviewed by Bob Moore
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Lynch is the internationally-acclaimed, prize-winning author of four novels: Beyond the Sea, Grace, The Black Snow and Red Sky in Morning, and the winner of the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2018, among other prizes. All his books have been published to critical acclaim.
Paul Lynch was born in Limerick in 1977, grew up in Co Donegal, and lives in Dublin. He was previously the chief film critic of Ireland’s Sunday Tribune newspaper from 2007 to 2011, and wrote regularly for The Sunday Times on cinema. He is a full-time novelist.