The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist: Reactions, Strategy, Predictions

The Wellcome Book Prize longlist was announced at midnight yesterday morning. From the prize’s website, you can click on any of the six books’ covers, titles or authors for more information. See also Laura’s reactions post.

Our shadow panel successfully predicted four of these six, with the remaining two (Fanning and Moshfegh) coming as something of a surprise. It’s a shame This Really Isn’t About You didn’t make it through, as it was a collective favorite of the panel’s, but I’m relieved I now don’t have to read Astroturf and Polio. I’m hoping that the rest of the shadow panel will enjoy Mind on Fire more than I did, and will be willing to give My Year of Rest and Relaxation a go even though it’s one of those Marmite books.

There are four nonfiction books and two novels on the shortlist. Given that novelist Elif Shafak is the chair of judges in this 10th anniversary year, it could make sense for there to be a fiction winner this year; this would also cement an alternating pattern of fiction / nonfiction / fiction, following on from Mend the Living and To Be a Machine. If that’s the case, since Moshfegh’s novel, though a hugely enjoyable satire on modern disconnection and emotional numbness, doesn’t have the strongest health theme, perhaps we will indeed see Murmur take the prize, as Annabel predicted in her review. Alternatively, Amateur feels like a timely take on gender configurations, so maybe, as Laura guesses, it will win. I don’t think I could see the other four winning. (Then again, my panel’s predictions were wildly off base in 2017!)

In a press release Shafak commented on behalf of the judging panel: “The judging panel is very excited and proud to present this astonishing collection of titles, ranging from the darkly comic to the searingly honest. While the books selected are strikingly unique in their subject matter and style, the rich variety of writing also shares much in common: each is raw and brave and inspirational, deepening our understanding of what it truly means to be human through the transformative power of storytelling.”

Murmur is the only one of the six that I haven’t already read; I only read Part I and gave the rest a quick skim. So I resumed it yesterday at Part II. I might not get a chance to revisit the other shortlisted books, but I will be eager to see what the rest of the shadow panel make of the books they haven’t read yet. We will all be taking part in an official Wellcome Book Prize blog tour put on by Midas PR. I’ll also look into whether we can arrange Q&As with the shortlisted authors to run on our blogs in the coming weeks.

I won a limited edition David Shrigley Books Are My Bag tote bag in a Wellcome Collection competition on Twitter. Fittingly, it arrived on the shortlist announcement day!

The Wellcome Book Prize winner will be revealed at an evening ceremony at the Wellcome Collection on Wednesday, May 1st.

Follow along here and on Halfman, Halfbook, Annabookbel, A Little Blog of Books, and Dr. Laura Tisdall for more reviews and predictions.


Which book from the shortlist would you most like to read?

20 thoughts on “The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Shortlist: Reactions, Strategy, Predictions

  1. I agree that Murmur and Amateur are now the most likely winners, though I wonder if we could see a v surprising win from Moshfegh (as I wouldn’t have shortlisted the book in the first place due to its lack of medical themes, so all bets seem to be off!)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The de Kerangal is an impressive literary novel, but I didn’t have the strong connection to it that I did to When Breath Becomes Air, a rare book I’ve read twice and enjoyed just as much the second time.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I absolutely loved both When Breath Becomes Air and The Tidal Zone. I agree that the Moshfegh, which I’ve not yet read, would be a weird winner for the Wellcome, but then it’s in the running, so…

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  2. So surprised that Year of Rest made it, though I really enjoyed it, it does not seem very medical at all. I would like to read The Heart and The Trauma Cleaner; Murmur sounds heart-breaking and Amateur sounds a bit too of the moment.

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  3. Amateur is so good. I would be quite happy if it won – I think McBee is an excellent, thoughtful writer, not shallow or zeitgeisty at all. A fiction win would be nice too, in which case I’d guess Murmur to be the frontrunner…

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  4. I think I remember you having said that if the Mossfeagh was shortlisted that you would give it a proper go, so when I saw this shortlist I got a good giggle out of that. (Maybe I’m misremembering. Either way, I was grateful for the giggle.) It’s interesting that you agreed on 4/6 though. Given that both jury and shadow jury members are bound to have their own personal preferences, this seems like a good amount of overlap!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was Murmur that I promised to give a proper reading if it was shortlisted — as I have indeed done since, and enjoyed it much more than I did on a bare skim. The Moshfegh I liked very much, but was surprised to see shortlisted, as I think we all were, because its medical theme seems slight at best.

      Liked by 1 person

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