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. Continue reading
’Transcription’ is the latest stand-alone novel by Kate Atkinson in which eighteen-year-old Juliet Armstrong is recruited straight out of school by MI5 in 1940 not long after her mother has died. Initially given secretarial tasks as well as the roles usually left to women such as making the tea, she soon begins transcription work monitoring the conversations held in a flat in Pimlico between Fascist sympathisers and an undercover British agent named Godfrey Toby who poses as a member of the Gestapo. A decade later, she is working as a radio producer of children’s programmes at the BBC believing that her wartime activities now lie in the past. However, a chance encounter with Godfrey (also known as John Hazeldine), some threatening notes and a sense that she is being followed remind her that the world of espionage is not one easily left behind and there are some who want Juliet to know that her actions have had far-reaching consequences. Continue reading
‘Melmoth’ by Sarah Perry tells the story of Helen Franklin, a British woman in her forties working as a translator in Prague where she has lived for some twenty years in self-imposed exile. Her friend Karel has come into possession of the papers of fellow scholar Josef Hoffman who has recently been found dead in the National Library. Among the papers is a manuscript which tells of Melmoth the Witness, an obscure legend in which, according to superstition, Melmoth travels through the ages, persuading those wracked with guilt to wander alongside her on a journey of eternal damnation. Helen’s initial scepticism of the legend wanes when Karel disappears and she is forced to confront the reasons why she cannot forgive herself for the outcome of events in her own past.
I have an ever-growing list of books I want to read which will be published in 2019, even though it is extremely unlikely I will get round to all of them in the next 12 months and more will inevitably distract me as the year goes on. Here is a selection of some I will be looking out for. All publication dates where known apply to the UK only and may be subject to change.
Among fiction titles, there are numerous sequels and instalments of series due in 2019. Spring by Ali Smith is the third book in the Scottish author’s seasons cycle following Autumn (2016) and Winter (2017) with Summer presumably following in 2020.
A part of me wonders if The Testaments by Margaret Atwood would ever have been written if the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale hadn’t been so successful. Set 15 years after the original book, the new volume won’t be based on the grim storylines of the second season broadcast last year, but it’s safe to assume that it won’t be a light and cheery read either. Continue reading
Is it possible not to have a good year for books? Thankfully, I don’t think this has happened to me yet, so here is a list of the books I enjoyed the most in 2018.
I have read more non-fiction than ever this year, partly due to shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist in March and April which I hope to do again in 2019. To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell won the official prize and was also our shadow panel winner – it’s a fun, informative and pretty terrifying book about transhumanism. , Yet while transhumanists are trying to avoid death at all costs, With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix explores the practical side of dying and what a “good” death can look like from her work as a palliative care consultant and this was a stand-out title for me this year. Another book I would happily press into the hands of everyone I meet is The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken which is an eye-opening account of the inner workings of the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom. And Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar is a book I am still thinking about regularly months after I finished it mostly because the stories of extreme do-gooders are actually more unsettling than uplifting in many cases. Continue reading
By coincidence, I have recently read two collections of short fiction by two of my favourite authors which bring together stories united around specific themes. ‘Property’ is Lionel Shriver’s first collection of short stories which all address the title’s literal definition in relation to real estate and also in a more figurative sense as ownership and possession. Ten shorter pieces many of which have previously been published in magazines are bookended by two novellas ‘The Standing Chandelier’ about the dynamics of Weston Babansky’s 20+ year friendship with Jillian Frisk and her unusual choice of wedding gift when he marries his girlfriend Paige and ‘The Subletter’ written in 1999 about an American journalist living in Belfast during the Troubles who has territorial struggles of her own. Continue reading
The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize was announced last month. While ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers and ‘Washington Black’ by Esi Edugyan appeared to be the favourites to win among bloggers I follow, ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns triumphed in the end. I’m undecided about whether or not to read it. There has been a lot of focus on the experimental prose style and the question of its “readability” with its unnamed characters and paragraphs without breaks. However, when chair of the judges Kwame Anthony Appiah said “I spend my time reading articles in the Journal of Philosophy so by my standards this is not too hard”, I wasn’t sure he really succeeded in selling it to a wider audience. On the other hand, it should be noted that the actual sales figures since Burns’ win tell a different story and it will be interesting to see how it is critically received in the long term. Do let me know what you think of ‘Milkman’ if you have read it. Continue reading