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Irish author Paul Lynch wins Booker Prize 2023 with Prophet Song

Paul Lynch is the winner of the 2023 Booker Prize for the novel Prophet Song (Lucy North/PA)
Paul Lynch is the winner of the 2023 Booker Prize for the novel Prophet Song (Lucy North/PA)

Irish author Paul Lynch said he thought he was “dooming” his career by writing Prophet Song before winning the 2023 Booker Prize.

The 46-year-old, who lives in Dublin, was presented with his trophy by last year’s winner Shehan Karunatilaka, at a ceremony held at Old Billingsgate, London.

Lynch told Sunday’s event: “Well, there goes my hard won anonymity. This was not an easy book to write.

“The rational part of me believed I was dooming my career by writing this novel. Though I had to write the book anyway. We do not have a choice in such matters.”

Lynch also thanked “all the children of this world who need our protection, yet have lived, and continue to live through the terrors depicted in this book”.

He added: “Thank you for opening our eyes to innocence. So that we may know the world again as though for the first time.

“It is with immense pleasure that I bring the Booker home to Ireland.”

He is the fifth Irish author to win the award, worth £50,000, according to the Booker Prize, following Dame Iris Murdoch, John Banville, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright.

The event on Sunday had a keynote speech delivered by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released from a prison in Iran last year.

Lynch’s fifth novel Prophet Song – which is a tale of a tyrannical government – is about a mother-of-four working as a scientist whose husband is taken away by the newly formed Irish secret police.

Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan, chairwoman of the 2023 judges and a previous Booker-shortlisted author, called the tale “a triumph of emotional storytelling, bracing and brave”.

“With great vividness, Prophet Song captures the social and political anxieties of our current moment,” she said.

Royal reception for Booker Prize Foundation
The Queen with author Paul Lynch, centre (Chris Jackson/PA)

“Readers will find it soul-shattering and true, and will not soon forget its warnings.”

She was asked during a press call if the judges had considered recent events in Dublin, where after a knife attack on children, there followed a series of violent disturbances.

Edugyan said that it was “mentioned at some point” when the book was chosen on Saturday.

“I really have to stress that, that was not the reason that Prophet Song won the prize, (and) that we weren’t sort of … taking our cue … from world events in such a direct fashion. I think it would have done a great disservice to the (prize),” she added.

Booker prize 2023
Esi Edugyan, a judge for the 2023 Booker Prize (Lucy North/PA)

Edugyan also said the judges felt that it would “have massive impact, that it would outlast this age”.

The violence in the Irish capital, which involved far-right elements, on Thursday saw Garda cars, buses and trams set alight, and shops looted and damaged.

The judges also included Peep Show actor Robert Webb, Bridgerton actress Adjoa Andoh, poet and critic Mary Jean Chan and James Shapiro, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.

During the ceremony, Andoh also read an extract from the 1990 Booker Prize-winning novel Possession, in honour of British author AS Byatt, who died earlier this month at the age of 87.

Gaby Wood, chief executive of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “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.”

Lynch told the PA news agency in September that the book did not have to be a warning about authoritarianism as “it’s actually already occurring”.

He said: “What informs this book is the sense of liberal democratic slide that’s been ongoing around the world for the past six, eight years, perhaps 10 years?

The front cover of Prophet Song
Prophet Song is a tale of a tyrannical government (Oneworld/PA)

“It was the sense of unravelling that so many of us have just been tuning into and feeling anxious about the thought that could this happen here? No, it couldn’t but yet, there are so many countries around the world where they thought the very same thing.”

Lynch also beat fellow Irish writer Paul Murray, who was shortlisted for The Bee Sting, which follows an Irish family facing financial and emotional troubles.

All of the shortlisted authors – which also include British author Chetna Maroo, American novelist Jonathan Escoffery, Canadian author Sarah Bernstein and US author Paul Harding – received £2,500 and a bespoke bound edition of their book.

Margaret Atwood, Dame Hilary Mantel and Sir Salman Rushdie are among previous Booker winners.