Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the longlist for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced on Tuesday. The £30,000 prize is awarded to a work of fiction or non-fiction which engages with some aspect of healthcare or medicine published in the UK last year. It has become my favourite book award in the last couple of years and once again, I will be shadowing the shortlist of six books to be announced in March with Rebecca, Paul, Laura and Annabel and between us, we will also be covering the longlist of twelve books too.
I imagine that the majority of the books submitted for consideration are non-fiction titles (they usually dominate the shortlists at any rate) but there are a fair number of novels which could also be in the running, even though the thematic criteria is more subjective. An obvious contender among fiction titles is Sight by Jessie Greengrass about a woman who is pregnant with her second child and undertakes research into the history of psychoanalysis and X-rays. I have also read Little by Edward Carey which is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud who made wax models of body parts in Paris in the late 18th century before living in London.
Elsewhere, The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry is a historical crime novel set in Victorian Edinburgh with medical experiments at its heart while Motherhood by Sheila Heti explores the main protagonist’s decision of whether or not to have children (although I’m not sure how tenuous the link with health and medicine is here having not read it). Lucia by Alex Pheby is a speculative account of the life of James Joyce’s schizophrenic daughter, and could be Pheby’s second shortlisting for the Prize following ‘Playthings’ in 2016.
As you might expect, there are vast amounts of eligible non-fiction books on a diverse range of subjects. Of those I have read, Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell is a sprawling and lavishly illustrated book which makes a convincing case against the widely held perception of the Middle Ages as a bloodthirsty and violent period of history where beliefs about medicine were guided primarily by superstition. I would definitely like to see The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite by Laura Freeman on the longlist – it is an impressive bibliomemoir documenting her recovery from anorexia and was shortlisted for last year’s Young Writer of the Year Award.
Memoirs by medical professionals are always intriguing to read. I have yet to read The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson about her nursing career but I reviewed Face to Face by Jim McCaul on maxillofacial surgery and All That Remains by Sue Black about forensic anthropology just last week, and I also enjoyed Brainstorm by Suzanne O’Sullivan about epilepsy patients. Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors by Caroline Elton is a book in which doctors are the case studies themselves and Elton, an occupational psychologist, offers an eye-opening look into how the transition from medical school to junior doctor is managed, the varied reasons why doctors choose their specialties and how clinicians develop emotional resilience.
Other non-fiction titles I hope to see on the longlist (and will read at some point even if they are not) include Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Mysterious, Miraculous World of Blood by Rose George and She Has Her Mother’s Laugh by Carl Zimmer which was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize last year and explores the concept of heredity and how it is much more than the genes passed down from parent to child. I also think That Jealous Demon, My Wretched Health by Jonathan Noble about the health (particularly deaths) of various composers from Mozart to Tchaikovsky sounds fascinating and I have read good reviews of Somebody I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell about her experience of being diagnosed with early-onset dementia when she was 58 years old.
Rebecca has posted a comprehensive list of predictions of her own, some of which overlap with mine. Which books are you hoping to see on the longlist?