A thriller told from the perspective of an Alzheimer's-afflicted murder suspect has won the medical-themed Wellcome Trust Book Prize, organizers said Wednesday.
Alice LaPlante's debut novel "Turn of Mind" takes readers inside the mind of Dr. Jennifer White, a former surgeon whose eroding memories could carry the key to the mysterious death of her best friend.
In a statement, the judging panel said the book's "superbly evocative first-person narrative brings the reality of Alzheimer's to life." Science writer Vivienne Parry, the panel's chair, said the book "emphatically confirms the ability of literature to tell us more about the heart and soul of an illness than any textbook."
LaPlante said she was inspired by her mother's decade-long battle with Alzheimer's, which she described as "a brutal disease."
The Palo Alto, California-based writing teacher got the idea for exploring the condition through the crime genre while watching a Friday night mystery on television a couple of years ago.
"Wouldn't it be funny if you had a detective who had Alzheimer's and who couldn't remember the clues?" she recalled thinking. Eventually she settled on writing from the suspect's point of view.
LaPlante's novel was one of six works shortlisted for the 25,000-pound ($40,000) award. Philip Roth's "Nemesis," an account of the lingering guilt left by a New Jersey polio epidemic, topped the list.
"State of Wonder," about a drugs researcher's snake-ridden trek through the Amazon to uncover the fate of her missing boss and "My Dear I Wanted To Tell You," a World War I-era tale about the psychological devastation of battle, rounded out the novels.
Also in the running were Sarah Manguso's "The Two Kinds of Decay," a spare but lyrical nonfiction account of the autoimmune disease that attacked her as a 21-year-old college student, and "The Emperor of All Maladies," by influential oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, a historical work that covers 5,000 years of struggle against the scourge of cancer.
The Wellcome Prize, now in its third year, is intended to promote books at the intersection of medicine and literature.
The Wellcome Trust: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/
Raphael G. Satter can be reached at: http://twitter.com/razhael