Press release

Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2011 shortlist announced

The Wellcome Trust Book Prize today announces its third ever shortlist for works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health, illness or medicine.

The £25,000 Prize aims to stimulate interest and debate about medicine and literature, celebrating those works that explore ideas relating to our health and wellbeing. This year's shortlist once again brings together the traditionally diverse fields of medicine and literature, with subject matters ranging from an extraordinary history of cancer to a gripping novel chronicling a polio epidemic threatening children in 1940s New Jersey.

The shortlisted books are:

  • 'Turn of Mind' by Alice LaPlante, Random House - Harvill Secker
  • 'The Two Kinds of Decay' by Sarah Manguso, Granta Books
  • 'The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer' by Siddhartha Mukherjee, HarperCollins - 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, HarperCollins.

Previous winners of the Prize include Andrea Gillies in 2009 for 'Keeper' (Short Books), a moving account of a journey into dementia, and Rebecca Skloot in 2010 for 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' (Pan Macmillan), looking at the life of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as HeLa, that came from her cervical cancer cells.

Chairing the judging panel of five, science writer and broadcaster Vivienne Parry also notes the strength of the fiction entries this year:

"The shortlist is really varied, one non fiction, one autobiography and four novels. It shows that if authors want to engage the public in medicine, genre is no barrier to success. The quality of novels in particular was stunning, a slam-dunk demonstration of the power of fiction to suck the reader right in to the heart of medical issues. All I can say at this stage is 'boy, is that final meeting going to be lively!'"

Parry's fellow judges for the 2011 Prize include: Professor of History and prize-winning author of nine books Joanna Bourke; Editor of 'New Scientist' Roger Highfield; prize-winning author Tim Lott; and Literary Editor of the 'Times' Erica Wagner.

The winner of the £25,000 Prize will be announced at an awards reception at Wellcome Collection, London, on Wednesday 9 November 2011.

Find out more about the Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

Shortlisted books

'Turn of Mind' by Alice LaPlante, Random House - Harvill Secker, £12.99 (fiction)
The police are convinced that Jennifer White has killed her best friend. Amanda's body has been discovered in her home, stabbed to death and with four fingers from her right hand neatly removed. Jennifer's work as an accomplished surgeon and the stormy nature of her friendship with Amanda make her the prime suspect. However, even Jennifer cannot tell if she really is responsible. Her days are spent in confusion and her memories are fragmented thanks to the Alzheimer's that is gradually destroying her once brilliant mind. Fractured images and remembered conversations return to her over the days of the police investigation, and Jennifer pieces together recollections from the near and distant past that cast light on her current predicament. As her condition deteriorates, she struggles against succumbing to the indignities of her merciless illness.

'Turn of Mind' is a portrait of a complex friendship of vexed intimacy, with a compelling mystery at its heart. It is a powerful and moving debut that will haunt readers long after the police have drawn their final conclusions about what happened on the cold February evening when Amanda lost her life.

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.

'The Two Kinds of Decay' by Sarah Manguso, Granta Books, £14.99 (non-fiction)
At 21, just as she was starting to comprehend the puzzles of adulthood, Sarah Manguso was faced with another: a wildly unpredictable and rare autoimmune disease that appeared suddenly and tore through her 20 paralysing her for weeks at a time, programming her first to expect nothing from life and then, furiously, to expect everything.

Afflicted with a Guillain-Barré-like syndrome called CIDP, she wrote 'The Two Kinds of Decay' after seven years of remission from her illness. In this captivating story, she recalls her struggle with unflinching and stark prose: arduous blood cleansings, collapsed veins, multiple chest catheters, depression, the deaths of friends and strangers, addiction, and, worst of all for a writer, the trite metaphors that accompany prolonged illness. This is a memoir that avoids every single cliché about illness, permitting suffering to simply be, by confronting the often meaningless and irrational nature of real pain.

Sarah Manguso is the author of two books of poetry and the short-story collection 'Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape', included with story collections by Dave Eggers and Deb Olin Unferth in McSweeney's 'One Hundred and Forty-Five Stories in a Small Box'. One of the rising stars of the American literary scene, she has won honours for her writing including a Pushcart Prize, the Joseph Brodsky Rome Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, the Truman Capote Fellowship at the University of Iowa and the Isabella Gardner Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony.

'The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer' by Siddhartha Mukherjee, HarperCollins - 4th Estate, £9.99 (non-fiction)
In 'The Emperor of All Maladies', Siddhartha Mukherjee, doctor, researcher and award-winning science writer, examines cancer with a cellular biologist's precision, a historian's perspective and a biographer's passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with - and perished from - for more than 5000 years. From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the 19th-century recipient of primitive radiation and chemotherapy and Mukherjee's own leukaemia patient, Carla, 'The Emperor of All Maladies' is about the people who have soldiered through toxic, bruising and draining regimes to survive and to increase the store of human knowledge.

Riveting and magisterial, 'The Emperor of All Maladies' provides a fascinating glimpse into the future of cancer treatments and a brilliant new perspective on the way doctors, scientists, philosophers and lay people have observed and understood the human body for millennia.

Siddhartha Mukherjee MD PhD is a cancer physician and researcher. He is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital. A Rhodes Scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, the University of Oxford, and Harvard Medical School, and was a Fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and an attending physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He has published articles in 'Nature', the 'New England Journal of Medicine', 'Neuron', the 'Journal of Clinical Investigation', the 'New York Times' and the 'New Republic'. He lives in New York.

'State of Wonder' by Ann Patchett, Bloomsbury, £12.99 (fiction)
Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever by granting them lifelong fertility. Dr Annick Swenson's work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate. A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns. Now Marina Singh, Anders's colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders's wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend's steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest.

Ann Patchett is the author of five previous novels, including 'Bel Canto', which won the Orange Prize for Fiction. She writes for the 'New York Times Magazine', 'Elle', 'GQ', the 'Financial Times', the 'Paris Review' and 'Vogue'. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

'Nemesis' by Philip Roth, Random House - Vintage, £7.99 (fiction)
In the "stifling heat of equatorial Newark", 1944, a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability, even death. Vigorous, decent 23-year-old playground director Bucky Cantor is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the War. As polio begins to ravage Bucky's playground, Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering and the pain. Through this story runs the dark question that haunts all four of Roth's late short novels, 'Everyman', 'Indignation', 'The Humbling' and now 'Nemesis': what choices fatally shape a life? How powerless is each of us up against the force of circumstances?

Philip Roth is among the highest rank of American writers and has won a string of international awards including the Pulitzer Prize for 'American Pastoral', the US National Medal of Arts and the Gold Medal in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He has twice won the US National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and he has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. He has received PEN's two most prestigious prizes: the PEN/Nabokov Award and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. In 2011 Roth won the International Man Booker Prize. Philip Roth is the third living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. The last of the eight volumes is scheduled for publication in 2013.

'My Dear I Wanted To Tell You' by Louisa Young, HarperCollins, £12.99 (fiction)
While Riley Purefoy and Peter Locke fight for their country, their survival and their sanity in the trenches of Flanders, Nadine Waveney, Julia Locke and Rose Locke do what they can at home. Beautiful, obsessive Julia and gentle, eccentric Peter are married: each day Julia goes through rituals to prepare for her beloved husband's ever-imminent return. Riley and Nadine, only 18 when the War starts, and with problems of their own already, want above all to make promises - but how can they, when the future is not in their hands? And Rose? Well, what did happen to the traditionally brought-up women who lost all hope of marriage, because all the young men were dead?

Set on the Western Front, in London, Kent, Paris and Wigan, 'My Dear I Wanted to Tell You' is a moving and powerful novel of love, class and sex in wartime, and how war affects those left behind as well as those who fight.

Louisa Young was born in London. She was for many years a freelance journalist, working mostly for the motorcycle press, for 'Marie Claire' and for the 'Guardian'. She has travelled widely and published ten books. She lives in London and Italy with her daughter and the composer Robert Lockhart. She is the adult half of Zizou Corder, authors of the best-selling 'Lionboy' trilogy, which is published in 36 languages.