The shortlist was announced this morning at the London Book Fair, and includes four non-fiction books and two novels. The Bodley Head is the most represented publisher, with no less than half of the works nominated having been published by the imprint. These include Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, the memoir of a doctor diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and possibly the first posthumous work to win the prize.
The judges this year are Simon Baron-Cohen, Gemma Cairney, Tim Lewens, Di Speirs, as well as venerable Scottish crime writer Val McDermid, who served as the panel’s chair. Speaking on behalf of the group, she commented: “This was a daunting task, getting us to read what we normally wouldn’t—we’ve had many lively discussions on the longlist. Each of these books have affected us in ways we didn’t expect, and oftentimes stimulated us to learn more about the subjects involved.”
Also included is Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene, a history of the science of genetics woven into an investigation of the author’s extended family, whose every generation is hit by cases of schizophrenia. Mend the Living, by French writer Maylis de Kerangal, is the first translated work to make it this far in the prize—described by Di Speirs as “a brave book […] which traces the medical drama and emotional turmoil of a heart transplant.”
Independent publishing is represented by Granta’s The Tidal Zone, written by Sarah Moss, a novel which explores the repercussions of a sudden illness striking a family’s teenage daughter.
. How to Survive a Plague by David France (USA) Picador, Pan Macmillan
· When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (USA) The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House
· Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (France) trans. Jessica Moore MacLehose Press
· The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (UK) Granta Books
· The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (USA) The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House
· I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (UK) The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House
The prize was set up in 2009 by the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity, which also happens to run the Wellcome Collection—a museum in London dedicated to displaying both art and medical artifacts. The prize is concerned wholly with those new books engaging an aspect of medicine or illness in a meaningful way. Previous winners have included Marion Coutts for The Iceberg, Suzanne O’Sullivan for It’s All in Your Head, Andrew Solomon for Far from the Tree, and Rebecca Skloot for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
More information here.