Prophet Song by Paul Lynch has been named the winner of the Booker Prize 2023. He received £50,000 and was presented with his trophy by Shehan Karunatilaka, last year's winner, at a ceremony held at Old Billingsgate, London.
The winning book was selected from 163 titles published between 1 October 2022 and 30 September 2023, and submitted to the prize by publishers. The Booker Prize is open to unified and sustained works of fiction by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.
Prophet Song, which is Lynch's fifth novel, is an exhilarating, propulsive and confrontational portrait of a country - and a family - on the brink of catastrophe. Ireland is in the grip of a government that is taking a turn towards tyranny and Eilish Stack, the novel's protagonist, soon finds herself trying to make sense of the nightmare of a collapsing society - assailed by unpredictable forces beyond her control and desperate to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.
Lynch is the fifth Irish author to win the Booker Prize, after Iris Murdoch, John Banville, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright. On his novel he said, 'Prophet Song is partly an attempt at radical empathy. I wanted to deepen the reader's immersion to such a degree that by the end of the book, they would not just know, but feel this problem for themselves'.
This year's judging panel was composed of chair Esi Edugyan, actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Shakespeare specialist James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb.
Esi Edugyan, Chair of the 2023 judges, said:
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. He flinches from nothing, depicting the reality of state violence and displacement and offering no easy consolations. Here the sentence is stretched to its limits - Lynch pulls off feats of language that are stunning to witness. He has the heart of a poet, using repetition and recurring motifs to create a visceral reading experience. This is a triumph of emotional storytelling, bracing and brave. With great vividness, Prophet Song captures the social and political anxieties of our current moment. Readers will find it soul-shattering and true, and will not soon forget its warnings.
Gaby Wood, Chief Executive of the Booker Prize Foundation, added:
This year's judges are so wide-ranging in their tastes, and so delightedly different in their styles of reading, that they developed a rule of thumb in order to find books they all loved. If they asked themselves 'what is this book doing?', they could analyse its technique, or the ways in which it advanced the art of fiction. If they asked themselves 'what is this book doing to me?', they could express their subjective responses, and identify novels that had an emotional impact. For this panel, the best books were those that answered and rewarded both of these questions. And the judges established at the start of the final meeting that any of the six books on the shortlist would be a worthy winner. Prophet Song is composed of masterful sentences, and packs a profound emotional punch.'
This year the Booker Prizes ran the Booker Prize Book Club as a new online community for readers to discuss and find out more about the six books in contention for the world's most influential prize for a single work of fiction, the Booker Prize Book Club. Find out more.
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