Bruce Lawson's personal site

Book review: Prophet’s Song by Paul Lynch

I mostly enjoyed this Booker-winning novel about a family in Ireland suffering under an increasingly authoritarian government, as the country swiftly descends into civil war. The politics aren’t fleshed out; it’s about the psychological effects of civil war and being a minority (in this case, the husband is a “disappeared” Trade Union leader). It’s very much a book of our time; this isn’t set in the “day after tomorrow”; it’s today. Apart from the street names and the Irish-accented dialogue, it could be set in Damascus or Darfur.

But what put me off what the author’s stylistic decision to avoid paragraphs or quotation marks. Much of the book was two pages of solid text, justified left and right so it was not at all easy on the eye. Here’s a photo of a random but representative spread:

A photo of a two pages from the  book

The lack of speech marks meant that often I couldn’t tell when one person’s reported speech ended and another participant in a conversation began, or when narration recommenced. For example, from the randomly chosen spread from the photo:

Carole looks up as the waitress steps towards them with a tray and places the drinks on the table then smiles and steps quickly away. You look as though you haven’t slept in a week, Eilish says, are you sleeping at all? Sleep, Carole says, her voice distant, far off in time, she looks across the table at Eilish without seeing her. I don’t sleep much at all, she says

(There were more egregious examples, but I left the book in my hotel room when I finished my holiday, as I knew I wouldn’t want to re-read it.)

The effect of this is that I would lose the thread and have to re-read to parse and make sense of the dialogue, and the monolithic slab of text made it difficult to find the place to re-read from. This was annoying, and got in the way of the excitement of the story.

I think this would be a great film or Netflix mini-series. Unfortunately, Lynch’s too-cool-for-punctuation prose got in the way of the narrative.

Buy "Calling For The Moon", my debut album of songs I wrote while living in Thailand, India, Turkey. (Only £2, on Bandcamp.)

Leave a Reply

HTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> . To display code, manually escape it.