LONDON (AP) – Irish writer Paul Lynch won booker prize Sunday for fiction, which the judges called a “soul-stirring” novel about one woman’s struggle to protect her family after Ireland is plunged into totalitarianism and war.
“Prophet Song”, set in a dystopian fictional version of Dublin, was awarded a 50,000-pound ($63,000) literary prize at a ceremony in London. Canadian author Esi Edugyan, who chaired the judging panel, said the book was “a triumph of emotional storytelling, courage and bravery” in which Lynch “pulls off feats of language that are astonishing to behold.”
Lynch, 46, was the bookmakers’ favorite to win the prestigious award, which usually brings a big boost in sales. Her book beat five other finalists from Ireland, the UK, the US and Canada, chosen from among 163 novels submitted by publishers.
“This was not an easy book to write,” Lynch said after being presented with the Booker Trophy. “The rational part of me believed that I was ruining my career by writing this novel, even though I had to write the book anyway. We have no option in such cases.”
Lynch has called “Prophet Song”, his fifth novel, an attempt at “radical empathy” that tries to immerse readers in the experience of living in a collapsing society.
“I was trying to look at modern anarchy,” he told the Booker website. “Unrest in Western Democracies. The Syrian problem – the implosion of an entire nation, the scale of the refugee crisis and the indifference of the West. …I wanted to deepen the reader’s immersion to such an extent that by the end of the book they not only know, but also feel the problem themselves.”
Five awards judges met to select the winner on Saturday, less than 48 hours after a remote Violence erupts in Dublin Following a knife attack on a group of children. Edugyan said that immediate events did not directly influence the choice of the winner.
Lynch said he was “appalled” by the riots “and at the same time I recognized the truth that this kind of energy is always beneath the surface.”
He said, “Prophet Song” – written over four years starting in 2018 – “is a counterfactual novel. It is not a prophetic statement.”
He told reporters, “I wrote the book to get the message across that the things that are happening in this book happen across the ages and perhaps we need to deepen our responses to that.”
The other finalists were “The Bee Sting” by Irish writer Paul Murray; American novelist Paul Harding’s “This Other Eden;” Canadian author Sarah Bernstein’s “Study for Obedience;” American writer Jonathan Escoffery’s “If I Survive You;” and British author Chetna Maru’s “Western Lane.”
Edugyan said the winner was not selected unanimously, but the judges’ six-hour meeting was not acrimonious.
He said, “Ultimately we all felt this was the book we wanted to present to the world and it really is a great fantasy.”
Established in 1969, the Booker Prize is open to English-language novels from any country published in the UK and Ireland. And has a reputation for changing writers’ careers. Previous winners include Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Hilary Mantel.
Four Irish novelists and one novelist from Northern Ireland have previously won the award.
“It gives me great pleasure to bring Booker home to Ireland,” Lynch said. Asked what he planned to do with the prize money, he said it would help him make payments on his tracker mortgage, which has increased with inflation.
Lynch received his trophy from last year’s winner, a Sri Lankan writer Shehan KarunathilakaDuring a ceremony at Old Billingsgate, a grand former Victorian fish market in central London.
The evening included a speech by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who is jailed in Tehran for almost six years until 2022 on charges of plotting to overthrow the government of Iran – a charge which she, along with her supporters, And rights groups had rejected it.
She talked about the books that kept her going in prison, recalling how inmates ran an underground library and distributed copies of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” set in an oppressive American theocracy.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe said, “Books helped me find refuge in the worlds of others when I was unable to create my own.” “He saved me by being one of the few tools I had with imagination to escape without physically moving the walls of Evin (prison).”