Thoughts on the Wellcome Book Prize Longlist

The 2018 Wellcome Book Prize longlist is here! From the prize’s website, you can click on any of these 12 books’ covers, titles or authors to get more information about them.

Some initial thoughts:

I correctly predicted three of the entries (or 25%) in yesterday’s post: In Pursuit of Memory by Joseph Jebelli, With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix, and I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. I’m pretty shocked to not see Fragile Lives or Admissions on the list.

Of the remainder, I’ve already read one (Midwinter Break) and DNFed another (Stay with Me). Midwinter Break didn’t immediately suggest itself to me for this prize because its themes of ageing and alcoholism are the background to a story about the disintegration of a long marriage. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely book that hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves – it was on my runners-up list from last year – so I’m delighted to see it nominated. Stay with Me was also on the Women’s Prize shortlist; it appears here for its infertility theme, but I wouldn’t attempt it again unless it made the Wellcome shortlist.

As to the rest:

  • I’m annoyed with myself for not remembering The Butchering Art, which I have on my Kindle. Sometimes I assume that books I’ve gotten from NetGalley are USA-only and don’t check for a UK publisher. I plan to read this and With the End in Mind (also on my Kindle) soon.
  • I already knew about and was interested in Mayhem and The White Book.
  • Of the ones I didn’t know about, Plot 29 appeals to me the most. I’m off to get it from the library this very afternoon, in fact. Its health theme seems quite subtle: it’s about a devoted gardener ‘digging’ into his past in an abusive family and foster care. The Guardian review describes it thus: “Like Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, this is a profoundly moving account of mental trauma told through the author’s encounters with nature. Jenkins sees his garden as a place where a person can try to escape from, and atone for, the darkness of human existence.” This is the great thing about prize lists: they can introduce you to fascinating books you might never have heard of otherwise. Even if it’s just one book that takes your fancy, who knows? It might end up being a favorite.
  • While I’m not immediately drawn to the books on the history of vaccines, the evolution of human behavior, and transhumanism, I will certainly be glad to read them if they make the shortlist.

Some statistics on this year’s longlist, courtesy of the press release I was sent by e-mail:

  • Three novels, three memoirs, and six nonfiction titles
  • Five debut authors
  • Three titles from independent publishers (Canongate and Granta/Portobello Books)
  • The authors are from the UK, Ireland, USA, Nigeria, Canada, and – making their first appearance – Sweden (Sigrid Rausing) and South Korea (Han Kang)

Chair of judges Edmund de Waal writes: “The Wellcome Book Prize is unique in its reach across genres, and so the range of books that we have considered has been exhilarating in its extent and ambition. This is a remarkable time for readers, with a great flourishing of writing on ideas around science, medicine and health, lives and deaths, histories and futures. After passionate discussions we have arrived at our longlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2018 and are proud to be part of this process of bringing to a wider public these 12 tremendous books that have moved, intrigued and inspired us. All of them bring something new to our understanding of what it is to be human.”

The shortlist is announced on Tuesday, March 20th, and the winner will be revealed on Monday, April 30th.

Are there any books on here that you’d like to read?

18 responses

  1. I was disappointed by both Fragile Lives and Admissions (having loved Do No Harm) so I’m less surprised by their absence. Glad I Am, I Am, I Am made it – I’d have been shocked if it it hadn’t! While I enjoyed Stay With Me, I’m surprised that it was considered ‘medical’ enough to qualify.

    I’m intrigued by so many of the longlist. I’ve heard Jenkins speak about Plot 29 and wasn’t moved to go out and get a copy, but he was very thoughtful and interesting. I’m fascinated by vaccines, so The Vaccine Race sounds good to me, and I’d like to read the Kang, Mannix and MacLaverty as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A fellow medical books enthusiast! I don’t suppose you’d be interested in being part of a shortlist shadow panel? I have up to 3 others who might be willing, and we need an odd number overall.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes definitely! Keep me posted.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have Midwinter Break on my TBR shelves although it’s for the Amsterdam setting. Sorry to see that Tom Malmquist’s In Every Moment We Are Still Alive which appeared on your list was not included in the judges’ selection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. MacLaverty’s novel stands out for its setting and the relationship between the main characters more than anything. The medical elements are really rather minor, but I’m glad the judges found a way to recognize the book.

      Yes, it’s a shame about Malmquist. I presume his book was in the running, though you never know. I think each publisher can submit up to 3 books for consideration.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done on your predictions – 3 out of 12 is a good result! Looking forward to reading some of these over the next few weeks. I liked Stay With Me but would be surprised if it was shortlisted. Pleased to see Maggie O’Farrell there too. I can definitely be on the shadow panel this year – should be fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. O’Farrell was a shoo-in, really. (Though I would have said that for Marsh and/or Westaby too!) I look forward to comparing notes 🙂


      1. Yes, I would have been very surprised if it wasn’t on there! I haven’t read the Westaby but enjoyed Admissions too.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Annabel (gaskella) | Reply

    I’m fascinated by vaccines too, and the Butchering Art calls to me too – as does behave (I hope some of the pages are index/notes!). I’m one of the few people not to have read the Maggie O’Farrell yet, so I’ll be rectifying that forthwith! It’s an interesting mix.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just noticed 7 out of 12 are by women!


  5. I’m amazed to see I’ve actually read one of these – yay! The medical themed books always interest me, but I rarely get to them because most of them are nonfiction, which I don’t read nearly as much. But I always *want* to read them. I think I’ll read “I Am” at some point for sure. Which one is Canadian?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Meredith Wadman, MD (57, USA/Canada) — The Vaccine Race. According to my handy press release 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been on the hold list for Behave for a long time, but I can’t remember where I got the idea (it’s not something I would necessarily gravitate towards). Also, I would like to read more of Han Kang’s work. This isn’t a prize that I know very well, but I enjoyed your post all the same. Why do you need an odd number of people for your shadow group?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In case we have split opinions, so there won’t be a tie 🙂


      1. But couldn’t you still have a 2-2-1 tie? There is always an odd number of panelists on the annual Canada Reads competition on CBC and it feels like there are endless ties to sort through!


    2. I suppose that is theoretically possible. Last year I had my panellists assign points to the six shortlisted books, with 6 given to their favourite and 1 to their least favourite, and we added up the totals. That showed us a clear winner.


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