And the Winner of the Not the Wellcome Prize Is…

 

Constellations: Reflections from Life by Sinéad Gleeson

This book best met the criteria of the Wellcome Book Prize: “At some point, medicine touches all our lives. Books that find stories in those brushes with medicine are ones that add new meaning to what it means to be human. The subjects these books grapple with might include birth and beginnings, illness and loss, pain, memory, and identity. In keeping with its vision and goals, the Wellcome Book Prize aims to excite public interest and encourage debate around these topics.”

Jackie says (in her blog tour review): “Constellations is a collection of fourteen essays written by an eloquent storyteller. Each celebrates the imperfect body – its workings and failings. … The stories told are incisive and highly personal. They cover a variety of the author’s lived experiences including: bone disease, cancer treatment, pregnancy, motherhood, and death. … The writing throughout is percipient and exquisitely rendered, arguments expressed with clarity and compassion.”

Annabel says: “Gleeson’s beautifully written essays on her life, her health, pain and illness, motherhood, and being a woman in Ireland are deeply personal, yet speak volumes. Richly varied in style and closing with a poem written to her daughter, the collection explores her themes in elegant prose with not a word wasted. She questions, explains, understands, writing through pain, but also shows her joie de vivre. Superb!” (See more in her 5-star review.)

From my review (December 2018): “Gleeson turns pain into art. … She marvels at all that the body can withstand, but realizes that medical interventions leave permanent marks, physical or emotional. She also remarks on the essential loneliness of illness, and the likelihood of women’s pain not being believed in or acknowledged. This book feels timely and is inventive in how it brings together disparate topics to explore the possibilities and limitations of women’s bodies.”


Some favourite quotes from Constellations:

“Our bodies are sacred, certainly, but they are often not ours alone. Our hospital body, all rivers of scars; the day-to-day form that we present to the world … we create our own matryoshka bodies, and try to keep one that is just for us.”

“Joints can be replaced, organs transplanted, blood transfused, but the story of our lives is still the story of one body. From ill health to heartbreak, we live inside the same skin, aware of its fragility, grappling with our mortality.”

“Illness is an outpost: lunar, Arctic, difficult to reach.”

 

(Honorable mention goes to The Remarkable Life of the Skin by Monty Lyman for winning the popular vote on Twitter. I was so pleased that we got 354 votes! We arrived at a winner, as we have in the past few years, through each member of the shadow panel doling out 21 points, assigning each book a point value from 1 to 6. The Twitter scores were assigned in the same way and added in, and the winner was the book with the most points in total.)

Thank you to the rest of the shadow panel (Annabel of Annabookbel, Clare of A Little Blog of Books, Laura of Dr. Laura Tisdall and Paul of Halfman, Halfbook) and to all the bloggers who took part in the blog tour for helping to showcase some of the best health-themed literature published in 2019.

Here’s hoping that this time next year some of us can be meeting up in person to celebrate the awarding of the 2021 Wellcome Book Prize.

24 responses

  1. If it wasn’t already on my list, Constellations certainly would be now!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll be so pleased if we can get this wonderful book some more attention. It was shortlisted for the Folio Prize, but otherwise has flown under the radar.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. And won the best non-fiction book at the An Post Irish Book Awards. Shame on me for forgetting.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds like a fascinating read! I wrote my dissertation on women and bodies in Irish literature so I’m definitely adding this to my reading list

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, this is absolutely a book for you! Do you also know Notes to Self by Emilie Pine and Vagina by Lynn Enright? (https://bookishbeck.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/reading-ireland-month-2019-nonfiction-lynn-enright-and-emilie-pine/)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Notes to Self is on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. I have to admit, I don’t know what it’s about as it was a gift! Maybe I should add that to next month’s reading list?

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    2. It’s fairly similar to the Gleeson in that it’s essays about being in a female body. Some of the specific topics are rape, infertility and menstruation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant write-up Rebecca. Thanks so much for all your work on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a labour of love 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. yay! I loved Constellations so much, it’s a really affecting read. Many congratulations on this – itt’s been great to follow along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your support, Cathy!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Yay! Of the list, this was one of the books I’d had my eye on. Will look forward to reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Getting her (and some other great authors) more readers was reason enough to do this.

      Like

  6. Well done on picking a great-sounding one and I’ve enjoyed reading the reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Liz! It’s been fun, but I hope next year we’ll be back to a normal prize schedule and won’t have to run this, as it was a lot of work.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think this one’s already on my list, thanks to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hooray! I know it was published in the USA; not sure about Canada.

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      1. It seems to be! (Not at the library, but in stores.)

        Liked by 1 person

    2. One to put on a wish list, perhaps? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Fantastic choice, this was easily one of my favorite reads from last year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was so pleased to spy it on your shelves the other day. You must have bought the UK edition well before it came out in the States? It was on my Best of 2019 list, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did!!!! I ordered it right when it was published in the UK, I was so impatient. A GREAT decision.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. […] the examination of sexuality. The overarching metaphor of star maps is effective and reminded me of Constellations by Sinéad […]

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  10. […] pregnancy loss into art – “making wounds the source of inspiration.” Constellations was our Not the Wellcome Prize winner during this hiatus year for the official […]

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