Prophet Song, the fifth novel by Dublin-based author Paul Lynch, opens with molecular biologist and mother of four Eilish Stack answering the door to polite but officiously sinister policemen. Ireland, we learn, is now governed by the National Alliance Party, which is gradually transforming the country into a militarised, paranoid totalitarian state under the pretext of combating a ‘national emergency’.
The opening chapters of this gripping, brilliantly realised story of political violence follow Eilish’s attempts to find her husband, Larry, a member of a teachers’ trade union, who is abducted after a protest march. As Eilish comes into conflict with the forces of officialdom, she becomes an enemy of the state: her property is attacked and she is isolated at work. Alone, she is left to shield her dementia-suffering father and children from the growing menace. Her eldest child, Mark, is sent away before he can be called up for national service, while fourteen-year-old Molly develops an eating disorder. Bailey, almost thirteen, becomes ever more disobedient. Eilish’s struggle, described in an urgent present-tense narration, is set against a growing insurgency that plunges Ireland into a civil war that drags her family in, culminating in intense fighting in Dublin between government and rebel forces.
The novel’s themes invite comparisons with the work of Margaret Atwood and George Orwell, though Prophet Song does not depict a futuristic world replete with a set of rules the reader is required to learn. Instead, Lynch draws on the world around us, which is already infused with