The 12 books longlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize are:
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
Astroturf by Matthew Sperling
Educated by Tara Westover
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar
Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning
Murmur by Will Eaves
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication by Thomas Abraham
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein
Among the five fiction and seven non-fiction titles, the judges have noted that gender, identity and mental health have emerged as prominent themes this year. I will be shadowing the shortlist of six books which will be announced on 19th March with fellow book bloggers Rebecca, Annabel, Paul and Laura and we will also be covering the longlist between us over the next few weeks.
I read ‘Sight’ last year which I really liked and I had marked it out as a likely contender when I reviewed it in April even before the 2018 winner was announced. However, I hadn’t considered ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ by Ottessa Moshfegh as a possibility, even though it now seems obvious how the book relates to the thematic criteria of the prize. Set in New York City in the months before 9/11, an unnamed young woman decides to hibernate and sleep for a year aided by narcotics prescribed by a psychiatrist of highly questionable competence. Her parents have died and her inheritance allows her to live a seemingly privileged lifestyle on the Upper East Side, but all she wants to do is wake up at the end of the drug-induced year as a brand new person.
That’s pretty much it as far as plot goes. As those who have read Moshfegh’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted Eileen and short story collection Homesick for Another World will already be aware, the dry, flat tone of the narrator and preoccupation with the more grotesque things in life are quickly becoming essential characteristics of Moshfegh’s work. A story told through a repetitive fog of narcotics, numbness and nightmares might not sound like the easiest of reads but Moshfegh’s intense character study is very effective and it is a surprisingly fast-paced read despite the sluggishness of the main protagonist’s mental state. There are even some darkly comic moments although they will most likely trigger nervous laughter from the reader more than actual laughter. Overall this is a very confronting novel with an ending which is likely to divide readers as much as ‘Eileen’ did – Moshfegh really does take the reader to the edge of the abyss instead of just showing it from a distance. I’m not sure if this is one I would choose for the shortlist myself but I have yet to compare it with the other books.
As for the rest of the longlist, I am particularly looking forward to reading ‘This Really Isn’t About You’ by Jean Hannah Edelstein which is a memoir about her father’s death and her discovery that she carries the same gene which caused his lung cancer. I will also be reading and reviewing ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover about her survivalist upbringing in Idaho very soon – another book I was already aware of but hadn’t considered as a possible contender. And it’s always good to see some titles which are completely new to me so I am keen to hear more about Matthew Sperling’s ‘Astroturf’, a novel about a man who takes steroids and Arnold Thomas Fanning’s ‘Mind on Fire’ which is the Irish playwright’s memoir of living with bipolar disorder.
Have you read any of the longlisted books?