On Wednesday 1 May, British author Will Eaves has been awarded the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize for his astonishing novel Murmur, inspired by the life and legacy of Alan Turing.
Bestselling author and Chair of Judges, Elif Shafak, made the announcement at the award ceremony at Wellcome Collection, London, praising Eaves’ “exquisite craft” in writing a novel of such power it “restores our faith in human beings, and their endless capacity for resilience.”
Eaves was selected from a shortlist of six to win the prestigious £30,000 prize, which celebrates exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction that illuminate the many ways that health and medicine touch our lives.
Taking its cue from the arrest and legally-enforced chemical castration of Turing, Eaves fictionalises the devastating period before the mathematician’s death in an extraordinary contemplation of consciousness. Through Alec Pryor – the book’s avatar for Turing – Eaves seamlessly fuses art and science to create a feverish meditation on love, state-sanctioned homophobia and knowledge, alongside an exploration of sexuality, identity and artificial intelligence.
Originally a short story, Murmur is Eaves’ fifth novel and is published by CB Editions, an independent small press run solely by Charles Boyle that releases only a handful of books each year. After being shortlisted for the 2017 BBC National Short Story Award, the novel was nominated for the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize, 2019 James Tait Black Prize and 2019 Rathbones Folio Prize, and awarded the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019.
The other titles shortlisted for the 2019 Wellcome Book Prize were:
- Amateur: A reckoning with gender, identity and masculinity by Thomas Page McBee. See the readers’ guide.
- Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar. See the readers’ guide.
- Mind on Fire: A memoir of madness and recovery by Arnold Thomas Fanning. See the readers’ guide.
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. See the readers’ guide.
- The Trauma Cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster by Sarah Krasnostein. See the readers’ guide.
Elif Shafak, Chair of Judges, commented on behalf of the judging panel:
“Murmur is a hugely impressive book that will grip you in the very first pages, break your heart halfway through, and in the end, strangely, unexpectedly, restore your faith in human beings, and their endless capacity for resilience. By the time you finish the book you might fall in love with not only the story and the storytelling, but with the exquisite craft behind it. Every sentence, each character… is well-thought, beautifully written and yet there is a quiet modesty all the way through that is impossible not to admire. Whether he intended this or not, Will Eaves has given us a future classic and for this, we are grateful to him.”
Francesca Barrie, Commissioning Editor at Wellcome Collection and Wellcome Book Prize Manager, said:
“Out of the record number of submissions received for the 10th anniversary year, we are thrilled that the judging panel has chosen Will Eaves’ exceptional novel as a very worthy winner. Murmur is a novel of both literary excellence and social importance, offering powerful insights into consciousness, identity, and what it is to be human in a machine age.”
Libraries around the country have been getting involved with the Prize by creating displays around the theme, books for the incurably curious. All the displays were entered into a competition, and the winning library was Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust library. Staff from the library were delighted to join The Reading Agency at the award ceremony on Wednesday 1 May.
Share your thoughts about the chosen books on Twitter and Instagram using #WBP2019.
Find out more about the books on the Wellcome Book Prize website.
Take a look at the Wellcome Book Prize winner from 2018.