Maylis de Kerangal’s Mend The Living, which explores the emotional and physical complexities of organ donation, has been named as the £30,000 winner of the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize.
It is only the second novel to win the award, which celebrates the best new books that engage with an aspect of medicine, health or illness, and the first text in translation, with the translation written by Jessica Moore.
de Kerangal’s is also the first French author to win the prize and it is the first time a MacLehose Press title has been honoured with the award.
Spread across a timeline of just 24 hours, novel tells the story of Simon Limbeau’s heart – from the fatal car accident that cuts short his life, to the moment when his heart will begin to beat again in the body of someone else.
It beat off competition from fellow shortlisted titles 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), The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (UK) (Granta Books), The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (USA) (The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House) and I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (UK) (The Bodley Head, Penguin Random House), to claim the prize.
The judging panel praised Mend The Living's lyrical exploration of the emotional, physical and practical complexities of organ donation.
A film adaptation of the book will be screened in UK cinemas from 28th April, directed by the acclaimed French film director Katell Quillévéré, starring Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner and Anne Dorval.
Author Val McDermid, chair of the judges, said the novel was “compelling” and “ambitious”.
“Mend the Living is a metaphorical and lyrical exploration of the journey of one heart and two bodies,” she said. “Over 24 hours we travel from trauma to hope, discovering both the humane aspect of organ donation and the internal dramas of those affected by it. Compelling, original and ambitious, this novel illuminates what it is to be human.”
Kirty Topiwala, publisher at Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Book Prize manager, said the title offered a “valuable” insight into organ donation.
“The quality of submissions for the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize has been exceptionally high, and we are thrilled that the judging panel has chosen Mend the Living as our winner,” Topiwala said. “Not only it is an incredibly powerful and emotionally affecting novel – beautifully translated by Jessica Moore – but it offers a valuable insight into organ donation, and brings new understanding to the lives touched by the transplant process.”
As Mend the Living is a novel in translation, the £30,000 prize money will be divided, with two thirds awarded to the author and one third to the translator.
Last year’s winning title It's All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan saw a 242% boost in print sales through Nielsen BookScan immediately after its victory was announced, shifting 17,353 copies.