Maylis de Kerangal’s Mend the Living wins Wellcome Book Prize
Book about emotional and physical complexities of organ donation is first translation and only second novel to win prize
Maylis De Kerangal: the first French author to win the prestigious prize
Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal and translated by Jessica Moore has won the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize. This year’s chair of judges, Val McDermid, made the announcement at an award ceremony at Wellcome Collection, London.
De Kerangal is the first French author to win the prestigious prize, which celebrates exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction that engage with the topics of health and medicine and the many ways they touch our lives.
Mend the Living is the first novel in translation to be awarded the £30,000 prize, translated from French into English by the Canadian translator Jessica Moore. It is the second time a novel has been recognised in the prize’s history.
The judging panel praised de Kerangal’s beautiful style in this exploration of the emotional, physical and practical complexities of organ donation, reflecting the fragility and fluidity of life.
Concentrated across the span of a single day, Mend the Living is a heart-breaking and gripping story of life-saving medical science: a 24-hour whirlwind of trauma and death, life and hope. It tells the story of Simon Limbeau’s heart, from the car accident that leaves him brain-dead and on life support, to the moment when Simon’s heart begins to beat again in the body of someone else.
Eileen Battersby, reviewing it for The Irish Times in February last year, wrote: “French original Maylis de Kerangal’s fifth novel, which takes its title from a line of dialogue in Chekhov’s Platonov, consolidates the audacity displayed in Birth of a Bridge (2010), which was published last year in an excellent translation also by Canadian poet and song writer Jessica Moore. Mend the Living examines the emotive subject of organ donation. Yet for all the ethics and pragmatism involved, de Kerangal avoids polemic and never loses sight of the humanity.”
French director Katell Quillévéré’s adaptation of Mend the Living – called Heal the Living (Réparer les vivants) – featuring a stellar French cast including Tahar Rahim, Emmanuelle Seigner and Anne Dorval, is released this week. The film was praised by Guy Lodge at Variety for blending “dazzling formal polish with rawest emotion”.
Mend the Living was chosen as the winner of the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize from a shortlist of six books: How to Survive a Plague by David France, When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee and I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong.
As Mend the Living is a novel in translation, the prize money will be divided with two thirds awarded to the author and one third to the translator.
Val McDermid commented: “Mend the Living is a metaphorical and lyrical exploration of the journey of one heart and two bodies. Over 24 hours we travel from trauma to hope, discovering both the humane aspect of organ donation and the internal dramas of those affected by it. Compelling, original and ambitious, this novel illuminates what it is to be human.”
Dublin woman Suzanne O’Sullivan won the 2016 Wellcome Book Prize for It’s All in Your Head.