Coutts, Toews, Marsh on Wellcome Book Prize shortlist

Coutts, Toews, Marsh on Wellcome Book Prize shortlist

Two novels and four non-fiction books will compete for the Wellcome Book Prize 2015, with the shortlist split equally between independent and major publishers.

The list for the £30,000 prize, which celebrates the best books engaging with medicine, health or illness, was announced today by author and chair of the 2015 judges Bill Bryson.

The three books from independent publishers are The Iceberg by Marion Coutts (Atlantic); Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (Granta); and All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Faber). From the big publishers are Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson); The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being by Alice Roberts (Quercus); and My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel (Windmill Books).

Of the two novels shortlisted, Bodies of Light is described as “a profound and provocative book about family and a radically modern novel with a 19th-century setting”. Meanwhile All My Puny Sorrows, which is also on the shortlist for this year’s Folio Prize, is a novel about sisters, suicide and how to carry on with hope when grief loads the heart.

In non-fiction, Coutts’ memoir The Iceberg – also shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction - is an exploration of the impact of death in real time, and gives an account of a small family unit under assault, and the inventiveness by which they tried to stay together. Marsh’s Do No Harm, also shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award  is an “astonishingly candid insight into the life and work of a modern neurosurgeon”.

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being, published by the formerly independent Quercus, which is now owned by Hodder & Stoughton, follows author Alice Roberts as she takes “a surprising tour around the human body, explaining how we function and how we might evolve”. Meanwhile My Age of Anxiety is “a riveting, revelatory and moving account of one man’s battle with anxiety, and a history of the efforts to understand the condition by scientists, philosophers, artists, and writers, from Freud to Hippocrates and from Samuel Johnson to Charles Darwin”.

Bryson said: “Highlighting the importance of literature in exploring the human experience within medicine, the shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2015 covers a pleasingly diverse array of subjects and genres. All six books blend exquisite writing with scientific rigour and personal experience, making medical science accessible in six very different ways. Having found my own way to science through literature, I'm thrilled to recommend each one of them."

Joining Bryson on the judging panel are Professor Uta Frith, the emeritus professor of cognitive development at UCL; author Mark Haddon; BBC presenter Razia Iqbal; and barrister and broadcaster Baroness Helena Kennedy.

Ken Arnold, head of public programmes at Wellcome Collection, said: “This year’s list proves again what a vibrant, surprising and moving slice of contemporary literature Wellcome Collection’s concern with medicine and health can reveal. At an exciting moment for us, when we have unveiled more spaces offering a wider range of programming to encourage greater depths of curiosity than ever, these books make it clear that our core themes are also inspiring some of the best writers at work today. Here are six wonderful books of both fact and fiction that offer powerful insights into the body and the mind, the practices of medicine, as well as the impact of death and suicide. I wait with bated breath to see which one will win our prize.”

Last year’s winner was Andrew Solomon for Far From the Tree: Parents, children and the search for identity.

The winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2015 will be announced on Wednesday 29th April.

Bryson will publish his first travel book in 15 years this autumn.