The third Wellcome Trust Book Prize has been awarded to Alice LaPlante for her debut novel ‘Turn of Mind’, a tale of a family’s secrets exposed by murder and a brilliant mind in terminal decline. It is the first work of fiction to win the Prize, triumphing ahead of Philip Roth’s study of a polio epidemic in wartime Newark, ‘Nemesis’, and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of cancer, ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’.
The £25,000 Wellcome Trust Book Prize is open to outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health and medicine. It brings together the worlds of medicine and literature, appealing to literature lovers and science enthusiasts alike.
'Turn of Mind' (Random House, Harvill Secker) is written from the perspective of Dr Jennifer White, an eminent former surgeon in the final stages of Alzheimer's who comes under suspicion after the murder of her best friend. As the novel progresses, our narrator's mind collapses as she enters the last stages of dementia.
While her world falls apart, the investigation into the murder of her friend, Amanda, uncovers her family's darkest secrets. The mounting investigation and the ravages of disease both exert their pressures upon Dr White and the story pulls the reader in, building to a thrilling climax. LaPlante's superbly evocative first-person narrative brings the reality of Alzheimer's to life.
The vivid portrayal of Alzheimer's drew praise from the judges. Vivienne Parry, Chair of the judging panel, said: "Technically daring, Turn of Mind tells a gripping story in the voice of someone actually afflicted with Alzheimer's and emphatically confirms the ability of literature to tell us more about the heart and soul of an illness than any text book. Hats off to Alice LaPlante for carrying off this prize for her very first novel, particularly against such stiff competition."
This year's shortlist for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize featured a diverse range of entries, ranging from autobiography to history to fiction, and each book gave a unique and exciting insight into the medical world.
Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, added: "Alice LaPlante's debut novel is a well-deserved winner of the Wellcome Trust Book Prize. It's a gripping, intricately plotted, and profoundly moving novel that takes the reader deep inside the mind of someone whose memories are being eroded by Alzheimer's. As with all the books shortlisted for the Prize, it has something both interesting and important to say about the place of medicine and disease in our lives."
Vivienne Parry's judging panel included: professor and writer Joanna Bourke; writer, scientist and journalist Roger Highfield; award-winning author and commentator Tim Lott; and the Literary Editor of 'The Times', Erica Wagner. The shortlisted books were:
- 'Turn of Mind'by Alice LaPlante (Random House-Harvill Secker)
- 'The Two Kinds of Decay' by Sarah Manguso (Granta)
- 'The Emperor of All Maladies' by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Harper Collins-4th Estate)
- 'State of Wonder' by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury)
- 'Nemesis' by Philip Roth (Random House-Vintage)
- 'My Dear I Wanted To Tell You' by Louisa Young (Harper Collins).