Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2011

 Celebrating Wellness in Literature

If you visit Fresh Ink Books you know that I follow many literary awards for reading recommendations. I don't always love the winners per se but I always find some very good reading in both the shortlists and those longlists that are released. The Wellcome Trust is a new one for me. In it's third year now, it rewards the book of fiction or non fiction which dealt with a medical subject.
I've always loved novels with some aspect of medicine or with doctors in them. I have to say that the improvement in the quality of the subjects covered has greatly improved since I was young and scrounging around for good stories that dealt accurately and not mawkishly with illness or disease. This year's shortlist for The Wellness Trust Book Prize were Announced on Oct. 6. The winner Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante was announced on Nov.9, 2011


Turn of Mind

Alice LaPlante
The police are convinced that Jennifer White has killed her best friend. Amanda's body has been discovered, with four fingers neatly removed from her right hand. Jennifer's work as an accomplished surgeon and the stormy nature of their friendship make her the prime suspect. But Jennifer has Alzheimer's, and the disease that is gradually destroying her once brilliant mind prevents her from knowing if she really is the murderer.
Publisher: Harvill Secker


Philip Roth
Set in 1944 during a fictional polio epidemic that threatens children in the Jewish community of Newark, New Jersey, this book is the story of Bucky Cantor, the 23-year-old playground director of the local school. Cantor becomes a hero to the boys, but as polio begins to ravage the playground and they begin to die, he is forced to make decisions that will haunt him in later life.
Publisher: Vintage

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

Louisa Young
Set on the Western Front in World War I, and also in London, Kent, Paris and Wigan, this is a novel of love, class and sex during wartime. By weaving together the stories of five disparate characters, Louisa Young describes the birth of modern reconstructive surgery and the psychological impact that it had on the men who received it.
Publisher: HarperCollins

State of Wonder

Ann Patchett
Among the waterways of Brazil's Rio Negro, Dr Annick Swenson is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever by granting them lifelong fertility. Her work is shrouded in mystery so Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate. Eckman's untimely death leads his colleague Marina Singh to investigate - stepping into the jungle's darkness to track down Dr Swenson and uncover her jealously guarded secrets.
Publisher: Bloomsbury


The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Siddhartha Mukherjee
The history of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience and perseverance, but also of hubris and arrogance. Cancer researcher Siddhartha Mukherjee describes the work of his predecessors and peers, with their successes and failures, as they pit their wits against a resourceful enemy. This book investigates the way doctors, scientists, philosophers and lay people have observed and understood the human body and offers a glimpse into the future of medical treatments.
Publisher: 4th Estate

The Two Kinds of Decay

Sarah Manguso
Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) is a hugely distressing disease in which one's own immune system attacks the nerves outside of the brain and spine. Sarah Manguso developed CIDP at 21, leaving her paralysed for weeks at a time. Written after seven years of remission, this book unflinchingly describes the medical routines that kept her going, confronting the often meaningless and irrational nature of real pain.
Publisher: Granta Books

I enjoyed and can recommend State of Wonder as I usually do with Patchett's books, and Turn of Mind and My Dear I Wanted to Tell You are already on my tbr list. I'm not one for Philip Roth but I may change my mind and read Nemesis as we have a family member who's endured polio his entire life. I expect I will read The Emperor of All Maladies one day, as we all probably should, but for now the experiences associated with my father and both of my husband's parents succumbing to this pestilence preclude my wish to concentrate on it. 

I do read medical books and journals  when I want information but I've always found that reading about medical subjects in the context of fiction is often a good way to learn about how people cope and it can teach empathy in a way that non fiction sometimes doesn't.

Shortlist for 2010

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson
Medic: Saving lives - from Dunkirk to Afghanistan
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Winner)
Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks
Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox by Gareth Williams

Do you enjoy novels with medical themes or do you prefer non fiction? 

Have you read any of the books mentioned or have any plans to? 

Which outstanding novels dealing with illness or disease can you recommend?

Leave your thoughts or links to reviews in the comments. I'd love to read them


  1. I can't say that I'm choosy in terms of subjects. Whilst in the past I might have read a book with a medical subject, I cannot be sure I've read anything of that nature in the recent past except perhaps Tail of a Bluebird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes which is about a murder investigation by a forensic pathologist.

    I'll be reading some fair amount of non-fiction next year and I hope to include those that teaches us about our health.

    Thanks for introducing me to this award. Never heard of it before.

  2. The Emperor of all Maladies is one I really want to read in 2012. Roth usually isn't for me but I'm sure I'll read the Patchett sooner or later.

  3. I have every one of the 2011 shortlisted books but have not gotten around to reading them yet. I do like novels with a medical theme as they are usually so fascinating and relatively realistic. I most recently listened to THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK, all about the burgeoning forensic science associated with identifying poisons in the 1930s. It was absolutely fascinating. Since you like medical themes, if you enjoy non-fiction then this would be a perfect addition to your must-read list!

  4. I enjoy books with a medical theme. The best book read last year (well, one of...) was Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, about a woman with a brain problem which made it impossible to see the left sides of objects (only she didn't know that she wasn't seeing them - very intriguing).

    Turn of Mind is on my wishlist and State of Wonder was a book I enjoyed. Yes, I do like medical topics! I finished Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese) last week, about doctors in Ethiopia.

  5. Pachett's "State of Wonder" satisfies those of us to like to explore the unknown as well as those who want a good mystery. She offers interesting turns of plot that keep the reader transfixed.



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