Coverpage of 'Prophet Song'.
Prophet Song is a novel set in the not-so-distant future. It is the story of a Dublin family -- Larry and Eilish Stack and their four children. Larry teaches in a school, Eilish is a microbiologist managing the family and work. They are a middle-class family living in a quiet middle-class neighborhood. The opening sequence sets the tone of the narrative. Night has fallen on the quiet Dublin suburb. Two plain- clothed policemen visit the Stack household, enquiring from Eilish of her husband’s whereabouts. It is raining outside and the men "seem to carry the feeling of the night". The sense of foreboding is palpable.
The following are established quickly: The National Alliance Party has taken over control of the government and has declared a state of emergency. Dissent has to be silenced and GNSB (Garda National Service Bureau), now provided with immense power, is hard at work doing just that. Larry is a part-time trade unionist and therefore a legitimate target. When he meets the GNSB, this is what he is told "your behaviour looks like the conduct of someone inciting hatred against the state, someone sowing discord and unrest…" Larry Stack replies that as a trade unionist he is only exercising his constitutional right. Those who have lived through or are living under authoritarian regimes will recognize Larry’s naiveté. The Stack family will never be the same again. The story is no longer of an imagined Ireland in a dystopian future. It is here and now. You dare to protest and you pay heavily!
Now to return to the narration because Prophet Song is a plot-driven novel. Larry disappears and all attempts to find him are futile. Rumours fly thick and fast and Eilish with her four children including a suckling baby, have to navigate through a world of canards, half-truths and imminent danger as the country gradually spirals towards chaos. It is not a deep dive; that is not the author’s craft. It is a slow descent and Lynch fixes his gaze on the Stack family: how are they going to cope as their very existence is threatened? Who can they turn to? One of the early moments in the narrative is Eilish’s visit to the passport office to renew her sixteen year old son Mark’s passport and apply for one for baby Ben, only to learn that she has go through security once again. The experience is startlingly Kafkaesque and Eilish now knows that she can never cross the borders of her country legally. One by one, the doors will close on her.
Running parallel to the episodes driving the story of the Stack family forward, is the buildup of the resistance to the regime. Men, women and children wearing white join protest marches, first in hundreds gradually swelling to thousands. The media, now entirely controlled by the government, warns people of imminent crackdown. "The GNSB is knocking on doors across the country and rounding up subversives, terrorists hiding in the civilian population." The discerning reader will predict the inevitable merging of the two strands as sixteen year old Mark flees home to join the rebels. Civil war breaks out on the streets of Dublin. As the novel draws to a close the pace of action gathers speed and it no longer remains in the narrow confines of a country. Eilish could be anywhere in the world fleeing from tyranny to freedom.
Prophet Song is a moving chronicle of the lives of ordinary people impacted first by authoritarian governments as their rights are peeled off one by one and the conflicts that follow. It is a serious work of fiction written in a style which demands the reader’s focus. The language is dense with long punctuation-free paragraphs which at times reads like a monologue. But the book deserves our attention because the message is loud and clear.
Aloke Roy Chowdhury is a retired publisher
By Paul Lynch
Published by Oneworld
Price Rs 599