Geschrieben am 1. März 2024 von für Crimemag, CrimeMag März 2024

Robert Wilson: Booker Prize Winner »Prophet Song« by Paul Lynch

A highly original piece of work

»Prophet Song«, the Booker Prize Winner by Paul Lynch, will be published in Germany in September 2024 as „Das Lied des Propheten“, translated by Eike Schönfeld (Klett-Cotta). Autor Robert Wilson informs us about the book.

I’d heard this novel described as a dystopian literary thriller and with the likes of Colum McCann (whose ‘Apeirogon’ I thought brilliant) putting his shoulder behind this book and having written the odd thriller myself I thought it would be right up my street. It was a very interesting reading experience.

The story follows the Stack family in an Ireland that has inexplicably slipped into totalitarianism under the far right National Alliance Party. Larry Stack is a teacher and union leader, Eilish is a microbiologist and they have four children, Mark, Molly, Bailey and Ben, between the ages of 17 and a baby. Eilish is also keeping an eye on her father, Simon, who lives alone and is sliding into dementia. Larry, unhappy with the regime, is planning a teachers’ strike. Eilish’s first real experience of the new Ireland is when she receives a visit from the recently formed secret police force, the GNSB, asking for a chat with her husband. Larry has his chat: a warning ‘to examine his conscience’ and to prove that he’s not being seditious, which he ignores. Not long after his phone goes dead and he fails to come home from work.

This might sound like the perfect start to a thriller: Larry’s disappearance ignites an horrific unfolding of events. But this is a much more unconventional book than a thriller and it would be useful to the reader to forget this word as a description of the book. There are thrilling moments but the threat element, usually provided by outside forces at work, is not always apparent. Instead there is an accumulation of dread and doubt, which is not so much propulsive but rather exerts a gradual strangulation hold on the reader.

It’s can be disturbing to feel the presence of the writer in a book and Paul Lynch is very much there from page one. The prose is delivered in solid blocks with no paragraph breaks and no speech punctuation. The writing is at times nothing short of lyrical: ‚How the dark gathers without sound the cherry trees.’ and at others alarmingly precise. The effect is unsettling but not completely disorientating. As if by magic I knew who was speaking throughout. The veering between the poetic and the punchy delivers powerful descriptive images followed by slaps to the face. This combined with no idea of how Ireland has arrived in this political strait jacket and our own sense of what is happening being defined by what Eilish and her children experience or are told by neighbours leaves the reader in a remarkable state of not quite being able to believe that this is happening. I had to get over myself to appreciate the brilliance of this achievement.

September 2024

Eilish herself doesn’t want to believe this is happening and battles away through everyday life driving the kids to school, attending her job where she is feeling increasingly isolated, watching over her erratic father and ignoring her sister Aine, who lives in Canada, and wants her to start thinking ahead. This is the refugee experience the world over, not wanting to leave until it’s too late.

It’s hard to give up on the place where you belong, where your children’s lives are rooted, where your husband is incarcerated where your father is unwell. Even when Eilish has been eased out of her job, school is finished, her father’s spiralling out of control, her eldest son has disappeared to join the rebel forces, the car has been vandalised, not one word has been heard of the ‘disappeared’ Larry, the bombs are dropping and the bullets whistling overhead does she think of giving up her old life. Only when something truly devastating happens is she brutally heaved over the edge and then has to undertake the impossible refugee journey with her mind in freefall and the money-making savages snarling and snapping at her ankles.

This is a highly original piece of work and a very disturbing one which will affect readers in different ways. Some might find themselves frustrated at the lack of political context, the inaccessibility of knowledge, while others will be sucked into Eilish’s world and the impossibility of managing a family in a war torn country. Both these states are equally valid as part of the refugee’s experience. Nobody will be impervious to Lynch’s powerful descriptions of a collapsed state on our doorstep, the disastrous consequences for all involved and the call for humanity for those who suffer such a devastating loss of liberty.

Well-travelled Robert Wilson is the author of the Bruce Medway-, Charles Boxer- and Javier Falcon novels. In 2003 his novel Tod in Lissabon (A Small Death in Lisbon) won the „Deutscher Krimipreis“. He has finished a manuscript for a WW II-thriller, set among the exiles in France and Portugal.  His appearance at CrimeMag herehis essay about Vassily Grossman: Book of the Hour.

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