Wellcome Book Prize 2016: Winners' and Judges' favourite fiction

Posted on 7th March 2016 by Sally Campbell
Previous winners of The Wellcome Prize, along with this year's judges, have chosen their favourite fiction that deals with medicine, health or illness. The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2016 will be announced in a week's time.

The Wellcome Book Prize celebrates the best new books that engage with an aspect of medicine, health or illness, showcasing the breadth and depth of our encounters with medicine through exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction.

The shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize 2016 will be revealed on Monday 14 March this year, with the winner announced at a special ceremony on Monday 25 April.

In the meantime, this year's judges and some previous winners share their selection of the most exceptional fiction books that fall under the Wellcome Prize's remit.

Damian Barr, judge of the Wellcome Book Prize 2016

The Farewell Symphony Edmund White.  This semi-autobiographical novel follows "A Boy's Own Story" and "The Beautiful Room is Empty" and charts first-hand the devastating advent of AIDS.

Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame describes a poor family in New Zealand unmade then remade by a daughter’s struggle with mental illness.  Guaranteed to make you bawl.

The Plague by Albert Camus has been reprised to many times and never more than our apocalypse obsessed now but it remains the most compelling and disturbing.


Joan Bakewell, chair of judges of the Wellcome Book Prize 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.

The Doctor’s Dilemma by George Bernard Shaw.

The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Sathnam Sanghera, judge of the Wellcome Book Prize 2016

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry. Nariman Vakeel is a seventy-nine-year-old Parsi widower beset by Parkinson's disease and haunted by memories of the past… A brilliant novel from our finest living writer.

Joshua Ferris’s Man Booker-shortlisted To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is one of my favourite books of recent times. It gets rather bogged down at times in theology. But in dentist and atheist Paul O’Rourke, who finds himself being impersonated online, Ferris has created one of the funniest narrators in recent literary history.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. A must for anyone interested in mental illness.


Tessa Hadley, judge of the Wellcome Book Prize 2016

Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus  A superb novel about music and fascism: Mann was always fascinated by the relationships between illness and art.

Keats’ fragment of verse, written when his tuberculosis was far advanced, ‘This living hand, now warm and capable/ Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold…’

Eudora Welty, The Optimist’s Daughter I’m cheating slightly – but it does begin with an eye operation, and then bereavement. Marvellously funny and sad.

Thomas Wright, winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2013 for Circulation

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – This seminal science-fiction novel – in which Victor Frankenstein studies medicine at university as a part of his natural philosophy course – is animated by ideas concerning 'science' so suggestive they remain contemporary today. 

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R.L. Stevenson  - This gripping and vivid evocation of the split personality of Dr Jekyll M.D. offers insights into the relationship between rationality and passion inside the scientific mind.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle - In this first Sherlock Holmes story we’re introduced to Dr Watson M.D., whose medical skill and whose experiences as a physician will be of great assistance to the consulting detective over the course of his career.

Andrea Gillies, winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2009 for Keeper

The Citadel by A J Cronin – which is a completely engrossing novel about a provincial doctor’s struggle to do his best in pre 1948, pre National Health Service Britain – a well disguised polemic dressed up brilliantly as a popular narrative.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann – for the way he uses TB as a metaphor for the intellectual crisis in Western Europe in the years surrounding the Great War.

·     George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl – because it’s hilariously naughty, and because it’s amazing that a children’s book offering methods of poisoning your granny remains unbanned. 

For more information, please visit or keep up to date with the Prize on Twitter @wellcomebkprize.


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