Irish author Paul Lynch’s ‘Prophet Song’ wins Booker Prize 2023

PTI, Nov 27, 2023, 8:25 AM IST

Irish author Paul Lynch poses with his book "Prophet Song" during a photocall with the six shortlisted authors for the Booker Prize 2023, in London, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023 ahead of the award ceremony on Nov. 26 in London. (Credit: AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

London: Irish author Paul Lynch’s ”Prophet Song” was named the winner of the Booker Prize 2023, beating London-based Indian-origin author Chetna Maroo’s debut novel ”Western Lane”, at a ceremony in London.

Lynch, 46, won for his novel presenting a dystopian vision of Ireland in the grips of totalitarianism, something the author describes as ”an attempt at radical empathy”. Set in Dublin, ”Prophet Song” tells the story of a family grappling with a terrifying new world in which the democratic norms they are used to begin to disappear.

”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,” said Lynch, who won the GBP 50,000 literary award.

”Prophet Song” was the bookies’ favourite to win this year’s Booker Prize and makes Lynch the fifth Irish author to win the prestigious prize after Iris Murdoch, John Banville, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright.

”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, the chair of the Booker Prize 2023 judging panel.

Lynch received his trophy from Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, last year’s Booker winner for ”The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida”, at the awards ceremony held at Old Billingsgate in London.

”The judges established at the start of the final meeting that any of the six books on the shortlist would be a worthy winner,” noted Gaby Wood, Chief Executive of the Booker Prize Foundation.

Among the six shortlisted works was Kenya-born Chetna Maroo’s novel set within the context of the British Gujarati milieu, which was praised by the Booker judges for its use of the sport of squash as a metaphor for complex human emotions. It revolves around the story of an 11-year-old girl named Gopi and her bonds with her family.

”It’s also been called a coming-of-age novel, a domestic novel, a novel about grief, a novel about the immigrant experience,” said Maroo of her shortlisted ”sports novel”.

Sarah Bernstein’s ”Study for Obedience”, Jonathan Escoffery’s ”If I Survive You”, Paul Harding’s ”The Other Eden”, and Paul Murray’s ”The Bee Sting” completed the 2023 shortlist.

Each of the shortlisted authors received GBP 2,500 and a unique hand-bound edition of their book designed by six fellows of the Designer Bookbinders society.

”Together these works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do while gesturing at the unease of our moment. From Bernstein and Harding’s outsiders attempting to establish lives in societies that reject them, to the often-funny struggles of Escoffery and Murray’s adolescents as they carve out identities for themselves beyond their parents’ mistakes, to Maroo and Lynch’s elegant evocations of family grief – each speaks distinctly about our shared journeys while refusing to be defined as any one thing,” noted Edugyan.

The keynote speech at the prize ceremony was delivered by British Iranian activist Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released from Evin prison in Tehran last year. She described how books had saved her when she was in solitary confinement and how a secret library is operated among inmates.

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