Cathy Rentzenbrink and Stephen Silberman are among six shortlisted authors for the £30,000 Wellcome Book Prize, awarded annually to the best new work of fiction or non-fiction whose central theme "engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness".
The shortlist comprises two works of fiction and four non-fiction. The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink (Picador) was a non-fiction shortlisted title, which tells the story of her brother's traffic accident and how the family lived with his vegetative state and beyond. Judge and author Sathnam Sanghera said he had left the book until last because he "thought it would be a depressing misery memoir". However, he went on to say: "While it does tell the horrific and heartbreaking story of a young life from a happy family being destroyed by a traffic accident, it is also warm and affectionate and very funny. I think all the judges cried but we also all laughed."
He added: "It's also incredibly timely in the very important questions it raises about medical ethics."
The 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction winner NeuroTribes by Stephen Silberman (Allen & Unwin) was also shortlisted - a book that traces the developing attitudes, treatments and theories around autism. The other two non-fiction works which made it onto the Wellcome Prize shortlist were The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate Books), an account of alcoholic addiction that proved to the judges "brevity doesn't mean less power" and All in Your Head by Suzanne O'Sullivan (Chatto & Windus), an account by a consultant neurologist of her patients with psychogenic disorders.
In fiction, judge and Campbell Prizewinner Tessa Hadley praised the "sensitive writing" of the two authors that stood out for the judges, Sarah Moss and Alex Pheby. Moss was shortlisted for her "deliciously sensuous" novel Signs for Lost Children (Granta), a Victorian-set story about a wife who, while her husband travels to Japan, stays behind in England to pursue a career as one of the first doctors in a hospital for mental-disturbed women. The second work of fiction shortlisted is Pheby's Playthings, a fictional account of the decline into schizophrenia (Galley Beggar Press).
The Wellcome Book Prize judges for 2016 announce their shortlist
Baroness Bakewell DBE, who revealed the six-strong "wonderfully diverse" shortlist in the reading room at the Wellcome Collection today (14th March), said: "It's a wonderful shortlist. We're really enthusiastic about every single one [of the books] we know very well. It will be very hard to select a winner. Each of them is a with winner. We recommend every single one of them to you."
Her announcement was prefaced by a personal aside regarding her recent "off the cuff" remarks regarding anorexia while in conversation with the Sunday Times last week. Following hours spent responding to public outcry on Twitter yesterday (13th March), Baroness Bakewell said that she had "naively" entered into a speculative conversation with the newspaper and had spoken "without reference to relative or common thinking".
"I am deeply distressed that it should have caused so much pain," she said at the press conference held by the Wellcome Prize, adding: "I did not know the things I've learned since."
In the six years since the prize was launched in 2009 (in 2013 there was no prize), two fiction entries and four non-fiction titles have won it. Marion Coutts won Wellcome book prize last April for her memoir The Iceberg, a book about the author's late husband and his death from a brain tumour.
Previous winners of the prize are Andrew Solomon for Far From the Tree: Parents, children and the search for identity (Vintage) in 2014, Thomas Wright's biography Circulation (Chatto & Windus) in 2012, Alice LaPlante for Turn of Mind (Vintage) in 2011, Rebecca Skloot for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Pan) in 2010, and Andrea Gillies' health memoir Keeper: Living with Nancy – A Journey into Alzheimer’s (Short Books Ltd) in 2009.
The winning title for 2016 will be revealed on 25th April.