Press release

‘Turn of Mind’ by Alice LaPlante wins the Wellcome Trust Book Prize

The third Wellcome Trust Book Prize has been awarded to Alice LaPlante for her debut novel ‘Turn of Mind’, a tale of a family’s secrets exposed by murder and a brilliant mind in terminal decline. It is the first work of fiction to win the Prize, triumphing ahead of Philip Roth’s study of a polio epidemic in wartime Newark, ‘Nemesis’, and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of cancer, ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’.

The £25,000 Wellcome Trust Book Prize is open to outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health and medicine. It brings together the worlds of medicine and literature, appealing to literature lovers and science enthusiasts alike.

'Turn of Mind' (Random House, Harvill Secker) is written from the perspective of Dr Jennifer White, an eminent former surgeon in the final stages of Alzheimer's who comes under suspicion after the murder of her best friend. As the novel progresses, our narrator's mind collapses as she enters the last stages of dementia.

While her world falls apart, the investigation into the murder of her friend, Amanda, uncovers her family's darkest secrets. The mounting investigation and the ravages of disease both exert their pressures upon Dr White and the story pulls the reader in, building to a thrilling climax. LaPlante's superbly evocative first-person narrative brings the reality of Alzheimer's to life.

The vivid portrayal of Alzheimer's drew praise from the judges. Vivienne Parry, Chair of the judging panel, said: "Technically daring, Turn of Mind tells a gripping story in the voice of someone actually afflicted with Alzheimer's and emphatically confirms the ability of literature to tell us more about the heart and soul of an illness than any text book. Hats off to Alice LaPlante for carrying off this prize for her very first novel, particularly against such stiff competition."

This year's shortlist for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize featured a diverse range of entries, ranging from autobiography to history to fiction, and each book gave a unique and exciting insight into the medical world.

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, added: "Alice LaPlante's debut novel is a well-deserved winner of the Wellcome Trust Book Prize. It's a gripping, intricately plotted, and profoundly moving novel that takes the reader deep inside the mind of someone whose memories are being eroded by Alzheimer's. As with all the books shortlisted for the Prize, it has something both interesting and important to say about the place of medicine and disease in our lives."

Vivienne Parry's judging panel included: professor and writer Joanna Bourke; writer, scientist and journalist Roger Highfield; award-winning author and commentator Tim Lott; and the Literary Editor of 'The Times', Erica Wagner. The shortlisted books were:

  • 'Turn of Mind'by Alice LaPlante (Random House-Harvill Secker)
  • 'The Two Kinds of Decay' by Sarah Manguso (Granta)
  • 'The Emperor of All Maladies' by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Harper Collins-4th Estate)
  • 'State of Wonder' by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury)
  • 'Nemesis' by Philip Roth (Random House-Vintage)
  • 'My Dear I Wanted To Tell You' by Louisa Young (Harper Collins).

About Alice LaPlante

Alice LaPlante is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and teaches writing there, as well as at San Francisco State University. She has been published in 'Epoch', 'Southwest Review' and other literary journals, and her non-fiction has appeared in 'Forbes ASAP', 'Discover' and 'Business Week'. She has written four books of non-fiction. 'Turn of Mind' is her first novel.

About the judges

Joanna Bourke
Joanna Bourke is a Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is the prize-winning author of nine books, including histories on modern warfare, military medicine, psychology and psychiatry, the emotions, and rape. 'An Intimate History of Killing' won the Wolfson Prize and the Fraenkel Prize. Her most recent book, 'What It Means to Be Human', was published in September 2011. Joanna has a Wellcome Trust grant in the History of Medicine and Medical Humanities to write a history of pain. Her 40-CD audio history of Britain, entitled 'Eyewitness', won two Gold awards from the Spoken Word Publisher's Association for Best Audio Production and a further Gold for the Most Original Audio. She is a frequent contributor to TV and radio and a regular newspaper correspondent.

Roger Highfield
Roger Highfield was the science editor of the 'Daily Telegraph' for two decades and has been Editor of 'New Scientist' magazine since 2008. While studying for his DPhil, he became the first person to bounce a neutron off a soap bubble. Roger has won various prizes for journalism, including a British Press Award. He edited 'A Life Decoded', the autobiography of the genome pioneer Craig Venter, and has written or co-authored seven books, including the bestseller 'The Arrow of Time'. Roger's latest book, which he co-authored, is 'Supercooperators: The mathematics of evolution, altruism and human behaviour (or, why we need each other to succeed)'. It was described by the science minister David Willetts as an "excellent example of the genre". Last year, Roger was a judge of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction.

Tim Lott
Tim Lott is a former journalist whose first book, a memoir, 'The Scent of Dry Roses', won the PEN/JR Ackerley Prize for Autobiography and is now published as a Penguin Modern Classic. His first novel, 'White City Blue', a portrait of friendship and rivalry between a group of young single men, won the Whitbread First Novel Award. Tim's most recent novel, 'Fearless', is a mythic, political, dystopian fable about a group of 1000 girls confined to an institute in a time of terror. His next novel, 'Under The Same Stars', will be published in the spring of 2012. Tim writes for a wide range of publications and frequently appears on TV and radio as a commentator and critic.

Vivienne Parry
Vivienne Parry (Chair) is a science writer and broadcaster best known for her many programmes for BBC Radio 4 including the multi award-winning 'Am I Normal?' series. She is also a prolific writer, contributing to a wide range of magazines and newspapers including 'The Times', the 'Guardian' and 'Good Housekeeping'. Her most recent book, 'The Truth about Hormones', was shortlisted for the 2006 Aventis Science Prize. She is Vice Chair of Council for UCL and a member of the MRC's Council. In her past lives, Vivienne has worked with the Princess of Wales, been the columnist of the 'News of the World', presented 'Tomorrow's World' and worked as an agony aunt.

Erica Wagner
Erica Wagner is Literary Editor of 'The Times' and author of numerous stories and poems as broadcast on radio and published in the 'TSL' and 'PNReview'. She is also the author of 'Gravity', a collection of short stories; 'Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the story of "Birthday Letters"'; and the novel 'Seizure'. Erica now edits the Books pages in 'The Times' every Saturday, where she also writes a weekly column, as well as reviews and articles. She reviews regularly for the 'New York Times' and appears frequently on television and radio. Erica has judged many literary prizes, including the Man Booker Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Forward Prize and the Warwick Prize for Writing.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.