Review: “Prophet Song”

It is the darkest of times.

Paul Lynch’s beautifully titled and beautifully written novel follows one woman’s attempts to save her family in a contemporary Ireland slipping further and further into authoritarian rule.

Eilish Stack is left to care for her four children and ageing father after her husband is detained and disappeared by Ireland’s newly formed secret police. Society is falling apart. Civil war is looming.

Breathless, relentless prose at once confronting and destabilising. Paranoia and unease leeching into everything.

Normal domestic life - taking the children to school, picking up takeaway, buying a newspaper - unfolds as the state becomes increasingly militarised and weaponised. As the state manufactures one crisis after the other.

The rising fear is palpable. Banned media. Internet blackouts (which are so much worse than power blackouts). Armed soldiers outside banks. Panic buying in supermarkets. Neighbours turning on neighbours.

We’ve all seen the signs. Paul adds a realist sheen that makes the abnormal seem normal, seem matter-of-fact. Which makes it all the more frightening.

The government has issued a series of new decrees, all schools and third-level institutions have been closed with immediate effect, citizens have been ordered to stay home except to buy food or medicine to to provide care to the elderly or sick.

Everyone is constantly on edge, not knowing who to trust. Not being able to trust anyone, not even themselves.

Then the gunfire begins and the bombs fall. The state’s monopoly on violence and detention becomes more and more brutal as Eilish tries to make her escape.

A tense foreboding of the future as we continue to drift further and further to the right, into the arms of fascism.

Will we fight or will we flee?

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