The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist

Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist

The Wellcome Book Prize shortlist was announced earlier this week and the six titles are:

Murmur by Will Eaves
Mind on Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning
Heart by Sandeep Jauhar
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From what we have read between us so far, the shadow panel has also come up with our own shortlist of seven titles (due to a tie on a couple), four of which overlap with the official shortlist:

Murmur by Will Eaves
This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
Heart by Sandeep Jauhar
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Amateur by Thomas Page McBee
Educated by Tara Westover

As of this weekend, I have read eight of the longlisted books. Of the four I haven’t read yet, three are on the official shortlist (‘Murmur’, ‘Heart’ and ‘Mind on Fire’). I’m particularly keen to read ‘Heart’ and ‘Murmur’ and I will be taking part in the blog tour at the end of April. I probably won’t read ‘Polio’ by Thomas Abraham, partly because of lack of time and partly because I read three books about vaccines last year (The Health of Nations, The Vaccine Race and Pale Rider) and I don’t particularly want to read another one just yet.

This Really Isn’t About You Jean Hannah EdelsteinOf the longlisted books I have read which didn’t make the cut, I would love to have seen This Really Isn’t About You by Jean Hannah Edelstein on the official shortlist but will have to settle for it appearing in our shadow panel shortlist instead. Her memoir deals with her father’s death from lung cancer in 2014 when she was 32 shortly after she returned to the United States to be closer to him, and then her subsequent discovery that she has inherited Lynch syndrome from him. Approximately 1 in 400 people are carriers of this genetic mutation which significantly raises the risk of developing cancer. The majority of people who have Lynch syndrome don’t know that they carry the gene. However, the development of genome sequencing and the ethical dilemmas it presents means that this is a topic we are likely to hear much more about in the future.

The book itself is much more than the standard cancer/bereavement memoir normally found in the Tragic Life Stories section of WHSmith. The unusual but effective structure begins with her father’s death (‘Between’) then jumps back to her life before his illness when she was living in London in her twenties completing various internships and working as a freelance journalist (‘Before’) and then jumps forward to the beginning of her own diagnosis and treatment (‘After’). Although the majority of readers won’t have personal experience of Lynch syndrome, much of what Edelstein writes about the challenges of carving out her life and career in London even before the news about her health prospects will resonate strongly with anyone who has had to find their way through early adulthood. Edelstein’s memoir is warm, moving and often witty, and also comes across as very cathartic for her to write.

Astroturf Matthew SperlingIt’s unlikely that I would ever have picked up Astroturf by Matthew Sperling – a short comic novel about a 30-year-old web developer who is dissatisfied with life and starts taking steroids – if it hadn’t been longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize. For me, the cybercrime element of the story in which Ned develops an online business selling fake steroids turned out t0 be more interesting than Ned’s tedious justifications for his own steroid use and the physical and mental health effects it has on him. ‘Astroturf’ raises some thought-provoking ethical questions and offers a pithy and satirical commentary about the more dubious corners of internet forums (the title derives from the “sockpuppet” accounts Ned creates to drum up interest in the products he is selling). However, the character development is limited – particularly the portrayal of Ned’s girlfriend Alice who appears to be very much a female character written through a male gaze – and the subject matter means that it’s hard to see this being universally loved even in the ironic way it is probably intended. As a zeitgeist novel, it’s unlikely to age well and overall, it’s not surprising that it didn’t make the shortlist.

Freshwater Akwaeke EmeziFreshwater by Akwaeke Emezi has also been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this month and tells the story of Ada, a young Nigerian woman with a “fractured self” who may or may not suffer from bipolar disorder with much of the narrative told from the perspective of the ọgbanje (an Igbo term for evil spirits) in her head as a result of being born “with one foot on the other side.” These voices inclide Smoke and Shadow who recount Ada’s childhood in Nigeria followed by Asụghara and Saint Vincent during her college years in Virginia and traumatic experiences she suffers. The magical realism slant makes a confusing situation for the main protagonist even more abstract for the reader to follow at times, but the prose is undoubtedly well written and atmospheric with some striking imagery. Although it didn’t make the cut for the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist, I could see Emezi’s debut novel being a strong contender for the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist instead.

What do you think of this year’s shortlist?


Filed under Books

15 responses to “The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Edelstein; what a shame it didn’t advance. Based on your review and Paul’s, I’m relieved Astroturf didn’t make it through so I don’t have to read it! I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your shortlist reading.


  2. I’m so glad I don’t have to read Astroturf…

    I was thinking of reading Pale Rider. Is it good?


  3. This Really Isn’t About You sounds like a fantastic book about grief–thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ethan S.

    This is such a solid list of titles. I’ve yet to read any of them, so thanks for bringing them to my attention!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Wellcome Book Prize: Amateur and The Trauma Cleaner | A Little Blog of Books

  6. I already said this on beck’s blog, but I’ll say it here too – I’m impressed you all managed to pick so many books that actually ended up on the shortlist! I’ve really been enjoying hearing your thoughts on the nominees.


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