Prophet Song, Paul Lynch’s fifth novel has been awarded the 2023 Booker prize. The announcement came on Sunday evening. Lynch takes home £50,000 (approximately INR 52.6 lakh) for what the judging chair Esi Edugyan described as, “a soul-shattering and true” novel.
Set in a dystopic Ireland, the book follows one woman’s attempts to save her family even as the country is sliding further and further into authoritarian rule. A shocking, at times even tender, novel, Prophet Song remains with you long after you’ve set it down. The Booker Prize judges said it “has one of the most haunting endings you will ever read”.
Ahead of the announcement, Edugyan, herself a two-time Booker shortlister, said that Prophet Song resonated with some contemporary crises including the Israel-Hamas war. However, the novel won the prestigious award solely on its literary merits. “This is a triumph of emotional storytelling, bracing and brave,” Edugyan said.
Prophet Song beat five other shortlisted novels that included, The Bee Sting By Paul Murray, This Other Eden By Paul Harding, Study For Obedience By Sarah Bernstein, If I Survive You By Jonathan Escoffery and Western Lane by Chetna Maroo.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, Edugyan said, “As a jury, you are looking for something that startles, that shakes you from complacency, something that you know in your bones is exquisite.”
“We felt unsettled from the start, submerged in – and haunted by – the sustained claustrophobia of Lynch’s powerfully constructed world. He flinches from nothing, depicting the reality of state violence and displacement and offering no easy consolations. Here the sentence is stretched to its limits – Lynch pulls off feats of language that are stunning to witness,” Edugyan said about the Prophet Song.
“From that first knock at the door, Prophet Song forces us out of our complacency as we follow the terrifying plight of a woman seeking to protect her family in an Ireland descending into totalitarianism. We felt unsettled from the start, submerged in – and haunted by – the sustained claustrophobia of Lynch’s powerfully constructed world,” said Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan.
Speaking at the ceremony after being awarded the Booker Prize, Lynch said, “This was not an easy book to write. The rational part of me believed I was dooming my career by writing this novel, though I had to write the book anyway. We do not have a choice in such matters. To quote the apocryphal gospels, ‘if you use what is within you, what is within you will save you; if you do not use what is within you, what is within you will destroy you’. My writing has saved me.”
“It is with immense pleasure that I bring the Booker home to Ireland,” Lynch said at the end of his speech, raising the trophy high above his head.
In an interview to Booker Prizes, Lynch said, “I was trying to see into the modern chaos. The unrest in Western democracies. The problem of Syria – the implosion of an entire nation, the scale of its refugee crisis and the West’s indifference.”
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