Will Eaves’ Alan Turing-inspired novel Murmur (CB Editions) has scooped the 10th Wellcome Book Prize, worth £30,000.
The 51-year-old's novel was dubbed “a future classic” by chair of the judges Elif Shafak and has graced half a dozen prize shortlists as well as recently winning the Republic of Consciousness Prize. It was originally published by CB Editions, which wound down operations in 2017 when founder and sole member of staff Charles Boyle went into semi-retirement, with Canongate recently signing paperback rights.
Murmur was announced as the winner tonight (1st May) in a central London ceremony from a six-strong shortlist. Also vying for the £30,000 prize were Amateur: A reckoning with gender, identity and masculinity (Canongate) by Thomas Page McBee, Heart: A history (OneWorld) by Sandeep Jauhar, Mind on Fire: A memoir of madness and recovery (Penguin Ireland) by Arnold Thomas Fanning, My Year of Rest and Relaxation (Jonathan Cape) by Ottessa Moshfegh and The Trauma Cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster (Text Publishing Company) by Sarah Krasnostein.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the award, which celebrates exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction exploring health and medicine and their impact.
Murmur impressed the judges with its fictionalisation of the devastating period before the mathematician’s death - following Turing's arrest and enforced castration - "in an extraordinary contemplation of consciousness". Through Alec Pryor, modelled on Turing, "Eaves seamlessly fuses art and science to create a feverish meditation on love, state-sanctioned homophobia and knowledge, alongside an exploration of sexuality, identity and artificial intelligence", a Wellcome Prize organiser said.
Originally a short story, it was shortlisted for the 2017 BBC National Short Story Award, the novel was nominated for the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize, as well as the James Tait Black Prize this year along with the Rathbones Folio Prize. It was awarded the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019, jointly with Alex Pheby's Lucia (Galley Beggar Press), in March.
Shafak, a journalist and writer, said of the judges' decision: “Murmur is a hugely impressive book that will grip you in the very first pages, break your heart halfway through, and in the end, strangely, unexpectedly, restore your faith in human beings, and their endless capacity for resilience. By the time you finish the book you might fall in love with not only the story and the storytelling, but with the exquisite craft behind it. Every sentence, each character is well-thought, beautifully written and yet there is a quiet modesty all the way through that is impossible not to admire."
She added: "Whether he intended this or not, Will Eaves has given us a future classic and for this, we are grateful to him.”
Francesca Barrie, commissioning editor at Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Book Prize manager, said: “Out of the record number of submissions received for the 10th anniversary year, we are thrilled that the judging panel has chosen Will Eaves’ exceptional novel as a very worthy winner."
Canongate has published Murmur in e-book and will publish in paperback on Turing’s birthday on June 23rd. Murmur was published in the USA by Bellevue Literary Press last month.