That impulse led to “Grace,” a novel that excavated one of the most painful chapters of Irish history, the 19th century famine. After the anemic sales of his previous books, publishers were skeptical. It took Lynch’s agent more than a year and more than a dozen rejections before he finally sold it to Oneworld, a British publisher. When it came out in 2017, the book vaulted Lynch to further international acclaim and won accolades at home, receiving the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year award. For Lynch, the reception among Irish readers and critics was especially gratifying.
“That book symbolically became a way of finding a new way of telling the mythology of Ireland, stripping away all the romanticism and self pity, the sense of victimhood, stripping it down to something deeply elemental,” he said.
In the time that it took his agent to find a publisher for “Grace,” Lynch finished his fourth novel, “Beyond the Sea,” about two South American fisherman who are stranded in the Pacific. Bleak and haunting, it was his effort to reinvent what he felt was a lost strain of existentialist fiction, in the mold of writers like Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Joseph Conrad.
If there’s a unifying thread in his work, it’s Lynch’s “tragic worldview,” he said. “That is a core tenet of my fiction, and I find myself coming back to it again and again, with characters who are trying to arrive at a sense of dignity, of who they are, while encountering an inalienable world that does not care for them.”
While all of Lynch’s books feature characters who confront unbearable hardship and tragedy, “Prophet Song” is perhaps his most unrelentingly bleak. It’s also his most deeply personal book, Lynch said. The detailed descriptions of the minutiae of daily life, as Eilish shops for milk and hurries her children off to school, were drawn directly from Lynch’s experience as a father, juggling his writing while caring for his two children. Lifting details from his own life was a way to ground what could have become an abstract and distant dystopian tale firmly in the present, he said.