It took me several tries to get into Paul Lynch’s Booker Prize and Irish Book Awards-shortlisted Prophet Song. I’d start it late at night in bed, and confronted with pages and pages of one long paragraph with no breaks, I’d put it down in frustration and decided to play Two Dots on my phone instead! With some books, it would end there and I would hope for a movie to come out just so I could keep up.
The back cover blurb really made it seem like my sort of book: “On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack answers her front door to find the GNSB on her step. Two officers from Ireland’s newly formed secret police are here to interrogate her husband, a trade unionist. Ireland is falling apart. The country is in the grip of a government turning towards tyranny and when her husband disappears, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare logic of a society that is quickly unravelling. How far will she go to save her family? And what – or who – is she willing to leave behind?”
Come on! It’s contemporary Ireland, it’s a mother fighting to keep her family together as war lands on her doorstep and Ireland descends into pure totalitarian shenanigans. Frankly, I thought it should have been my perfect read. So why didn’t I get it?
I decided to try one last time. Afternoon, fresh head, cup of coffee by my side. And, Reader, I couldn’t put it down again. The long wall of text makes everything feel relentlessly urgent and breathless and ohmygodwhatelsecanthispoorwomantakemakeitstop until the paragraph ends and one can breathe again. This is bloody genius. Once I got it, I really got it. With both barrels, so to speak.
The story itself is terrifyingly real. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, as it brings all the facets of fascism and war right into the heart of Dublin where we can hardly conceive of such a thing in the 21st century and most of us certainly don’t want to even imagine it, especially given current events in any number of other places in the world. But if dystopian reads are your thing, or war novels, or good stories about a mother’s love, then you’ll love this.