Wellcome Book Prize 2017 shortlist revealed

This is a profoundly human story of persistence, determination and innovation – and sometimes intense frustration – that could never have happened without fierce commitment.” Val McDermid on When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi “Mortality faces us all, and its contemplation is a key part of our humanity; few books pack in as many diverse insights as this. The full 2017 Wellcome Book Prize shortlist is: How to Survive a Plague by David France (USA) Picador When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (USA) The Bodley Head Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal (France) translated by Jessica Moore MacLehose Press The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (UK) Granta Books The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee (USA) The Bodley Head I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong (UK) The Bodley Head The two fiction contenders, The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal, both celebrate and interrogate the intricacies of modern-day healthcare systems. The winner will be announced on April 24th at the Wellcome Collection. “Together they form a mosaic that illuminates our relationship with health and medicine. With intelligent characterisation and quiet observations, harsh notes on reality, Moss creates a moving and poetic investigation of modern family life at a time of personal tragedy. Moss explores a family’s experience of navigating the NHS as they come to terms with their child’s unexplained medical condition, and de Kerangal tells the 24-hour story of a heart transplant, from fatal crash to life-saving operation. Jessica Moore “Mend the Living is a brave book, a highly original and ambitious novel which traces the medical drama and emotional turmoil of a heart transplant in daring, lyrical prose. Woven within this narrative is an intimate story of Mukherjee’s own family and its recurring pattern of mental illness. ADVERTISEMENT This year’s four non-fiction titles shine a light on the human stories behind scientific developments and medical care, as well as opening a door to extraordinary new worlds. Microbes are teaching us that every individual organism is an ecosystem in its own right, and Yong explores the profound consequences this has for traditional pictures of evolution, ecology and ultimately for identity.” When Breath Becomes Air review: A neurosurgeon’s story of terminal illness The Gene: An Intimate History review – journeys in a misunderstood world Mend the Living by Maylis de Karangal review: a young heart in limbo Paul Kalanithi’s life-affirming memoir When …

Big Little Lies review: Daily character assassinations in the valley of the iPhones

HBO’s latest drama attracted advance attention for its cast list: Shailene Woodley, as guarded single mother Jane Chapman, is understandably intimidated to discover that her new Monterey neighbourhood is home to Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern, as though it’s a gated community for film stars. A fresh arrival to this social order could fall in with any one of these groups, waiting for the selection that will determine their future. And, of course, these people have also brought their children. Violence simmers beneath this fetching aesthetic, nowhere more than in Kidman’s apparently lusty marriage to Alexander Skarsgård, where eroticism and aggression have become troublingly entwined. There are the needy over-achievers getting everybody’s backs up. It is the first day of school, and, with bittersweet predictability, tribes at a Californian primary school begin to form almost immediately. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the programme is preoccupied with hues, depicting beachfront properties, ocean sprays and languid sunsets as though through tastefully faded Instagram filters. There is the popular set, dominated by an outgoing queen bee. Who here is big, and who is little, is not as easy to tell. Likewise, the children are mainly fantasy creations, given a preternatural sense of social awareness in a role reversal typical of the show. But Kelley’s show, an adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel, dwells on the chatter of nonfamous nobodies, interspersing the action with a chorus of other parents, glimpsed in retrospective police interviews, who leak out gossipy yet omniscient exposition: “It’s possible, had she not fallen over, that nobody would have gotten killed.” Otherwise they gravitate to the same kind of bitchy joke: of Witherspoon’s glamorous, under-occupied mom, Madeline Martha Mackenzie (we should call her “Mmm”), a catty observer says, “She wanted to be Betty Grable – ended up Betty Crocker.” In a later episode we are told, “Scratch the surface of any Jimmy Stewart – Charlie Manson.” Big Little Lies, centred on a moment of aggression between kids that precipitates agression between parents, wants to be Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage – ends up Desperate Housewives. But it revels in a more discreet kind of violence: the enmity and character assassinations conducted daily among competitive and affluent parents in this, the valley of the twitching iPhones. Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic, Monday, 9pm), the new show from Ally McBeal and Boston Legal creator David E Kelley, begins by outlining a murder scene: …

Autism and Me review: ‘I mostly try to show that I am not stupid’

As the camera glides serenely above a lake, pauses by a whorled tree stump, or rests for a moment of quiet contemplation beneath a sky silvery with clouds, I make a note about the filmmakers’ technique. We meet Niamh Biddulph, a young woman adjusting to changing circumstances – a new home and starting college – and striving for independence. As Harris explains, for many people problems arise less from autistic behaviour itself – the traits people find “weird, strange, odd, annoying” – than from a society that doesn’t understand them. Elegantly constructed and entirely moving, the programme pays more attention to individuals than to a condition. Candid encounters with parents who fear for their children’s future are distressing to watch. In recognising the achievements of supports for autistic needs and encouraging gentle integration where possible, the programme depicts growing mutual access between autism and the mainstream, and even helps to provide it. It’s a tribute to the documentary that had you watched it beforehand, that awkwardness would have been lessened. And when Hughie, alert to everything but social cues, frets about “a joke [going] absolutely nowhere and there’s an awkward silence”, it carries a shiver of that precise situation befalling him on the Late Late Show. There’s a similar shape to the documentary, guided by the support structures that help people with autism, whether mild or severe, overcome social limitations. And this is where a documentary like Autism and Me can play a valuable role in an evolving culture. This is a refreshing approach for a programme that deals not so much with autism, but people with autism. A moment later, Hughie Malone, an 11-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, interjects with his own critique: “I know how obsessed you are with the scenic shots,” he says, in his restless precocious manner, beckoning the camera along a leafy path, “this way looks better.” If you find it surprisingly easy to relate to Hughie, a boy who can not easily relate to people, it’s partly because in Autism and Me (RTÉ One, Monday, 9.35pm) director Liam McGrath lets his contributors lead the way. No one is quite as fluently realised by that approach as Fiacre Ryan, a 16-year-old from Mayo, who is non-verbal but extremely articulate – he communicates via a Rapid Prompt Method, spelling out words by gesture, and the programme assists with a voice over. Adam Harris, founder of an …

I tick ‘eejit’ on my Don’t Tell the Bride bingo card

It’s a gorgeous documentary, but frankly most of these rutting, spawning, humping beasts could do with an Ikea wedding to put manners on them. The next scene of note is of Ben, Jay and Johann in a wedding-dress shop choosing a dress for Celina. Celina glides up the escalator to a round of applause from the close to 10,000 shoppers and is wed in a relatively pleasant little room surrounded by loved ones. And, oh yes, he is definitely making a hames of it or else the programme would be called “Sure you Might as well Keep the Bride in the Loop” or “It’ll be Grand”. Not a court in the land would convict her and she could then roam the halls of Ikea like a latter-day Ms Havisham, which is most definitely something the programme’s creators were going for. “Don’t blame me,” mutters her poor father. Don’t Tell the Bride (Monday, RTE2) is a title that evokes different things in Ireland depending on the era. Though, to be fair, there is no better symbol of modern marriage and Irish spiritual norms than a quasi-religious ceremony in a Swedish furniture warehouse. ADVERTISEMENT The start of the programme is always taken up with meeting the loving couple. Ben does not, of course, take into account the fact his fiancée is heavily pregnant and so procures for her a sort of skin-tight wetsuit wedding dress. Quite frankly, Penny looks like she’d be a much better wedding planner than Ben. I’m exaggerating. They all go to a pub to do some wedding planning where Ben unveils his big idea: getting married in Ikea. When this happens, producers in an editing suite high five each other and Lord Reith does a 360 degree turn in his crypt. Ben persists nonetheless, due to his congenital big-eejitry. Johann looks like he’s going to cry and Ben just repeats the same words over and over again “I like the netting type thing” (“You mean lace?” said the shop assistant) and they eventually manage to extricate themselves without getting jammy paw prints on everything, to the relief of everyone. Just so we’re clear: reality television producers do not always have your best interests at heart. It’s a good job Celina is so relaxed then. Celina has been picturing her wedding day since she was a little girl and she is also five months pregnant, so is, in Ben’s …

The Moth’s Ballymaloe poetry prize shortlist announced

There were always cigarettes and the faint smell of apples, your burgundy sweater, and the bristled curve of your throat. I swallowed, and they clawed my stomach raw and sick. Only when you draw your bow across the cello strings do I hear the one who made my fierce heart tremble. The sour Mechanic? Don’t tell my father. The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6.30pm. To be about it. The warblers’ variations. Will the heart hold for one more hour? Tonight she will leave her diaphragm in the drawer. I stop for a flower’s deliquescence, recite the sequence: crocus, daffodil, tulip, peony, rose. He has brought the house down around him and sits staring from the rubble. Were there a hiding place in poems I would slip you into it; you could cling to my back or a fiddler’s trousers, as Chagall wrote of his father, who worked loading barrels of herring and died crushed by a car. Till the end of shadows. I’ve tried to drown them in spirits, thick and toxic as the dark, drown them till they tasted of nothing but iron and burnt toast, and my body was a smudge of wings on a pebble beach. Will I drop to the floor in the cereal aisle? As in: my father has throttled his words once too often and lost the power to speak. Wild, erratic, the loon sings out its night devotions, Monk of the bird kingdom, trilling the high note past its measure till the heart’s thrilled open. Who can know what is written on his back. Will tomorrow be Sunday or Tuesday? The loons. The dish lies broken. You said, I know how you feel about me, and I believed you. Sprawls in the bed with its seductions. To be out in it, making memories of my mother, head thrown back, letting the breeze touch her. Is it fog you wander when you stare out of the house of yourself, is a you small and distant gathering itself for your return – a penny for your thoughts, but you do not speak them. ADVERTISEMENT I return to the nights in Russia when we stripped off sweaters and shirts, long johns and underthings, and dived for the narrow bed. The thing without a name goes with us. Beneath thin covers we shivered as we stole the fire of …

Autism and Me review: a stirring look at ‘my aesthetic world, vast and beautiful’

No one is quite as fluently realised by that approach as Fiacre Ryan, a 16-year-old from Mayo, who is non-verbal but extremely articulate – he communicates via a Rapid Prompt Method, spelling out words by gesture, and the programme assists with a voice over. And this is where a documentary like Autism and Me can play a valuable role in an evolving culture. As Fiacre puts it at the show’s stirring conclusion, it gives “testimony to my aesthetic world, vast and beautiful”. As Harris explains, for many people problems arise less from autistic behaviour itself – the traits people find “weird, strange, odd, annoying” – than from a society that doesn’t understand them. In recognising the achievements of supports for autistic needs and encouraging gentle integration where possible, the programme depicts growing mutual access between autism and the mainstream, and even helps to provide it. As the camera glides serenely above a lake, pauses by a whorled tree stump, or rests for a moment of quiet contemplation beneath a sky silvery with clouds, I make a note about the filmmakers’ technique. We meet Niamh Biddulph, a young woman adjusting to changing circumstances – a new home and starting college – and striving for independence. And when Hughie, alert to everything but social cues, frets about “a joke [going] absolutely nowhere and there’s an awkward silence”, it carries a shiver of that precise situation befalling him on the Late Late Show. If self-deprecation is a spectrum, Fiacre at its extreme end: he narrates his experience with the soul of a poet, and the programme gives his internal monologue a revelatory public expression. There’s a similar shape to the documentary, guided by the support structures that help people with autism, whether mild or severe, overcome social limitations. Adam Harris, founder of an autism awareness group, can show videos of his “huge meltdowns” as a toddler, before he had “the tools to navigate the world”. Elegantly constructed and entirely moving, the programme pays more attention to individuals than to a condition. Candid encounters with parents who fear for their children’s future are distressing to watch. “I mostly try to show that I am not stupid,” he says. This is a refreshing approach for a programme that deals not so much with autism, but people with autism. It’s a tribute to the documentary that had you watched it beforehand, that awkwardness would have been …

Kate Kerrigan wins Historical Romantic Novel Award

This wonderful story celebrates the sensitive treatment of first love. Romantic Novel of the Year Category Winners Debbie Johnson, Summer at the Comfort Food Café, HarperImpulse Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year (for mainstream romantic novels set post-1960) Janet Gover, Little Girl Lost, Choc Lit Epic Romantic Novel of the Year (for novels containing serious issues or themes, including gritty, multi-generational stories) Kate Kerrigan, It Was Only Ever You, Head of Zeus Historical Romantic Novel of the Year (for novels set in a period before 1960) Kate Johnson, Max Seventeen, independently published Paranormal or Speculative Romantic Novel (for novels that include elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, whether paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, time slip or worlds that include ghosts, vampires or creatures of legend.) Penny Parkes, Out of Practice, Simon & Schuster Romantic Comedy Romantic Novel of the Year (for consistently humorous or amusing novels) Scarlet Wilson, Christmas in the Boss’s Castle, Mills & Boon Cherish Winner RoNA Rose Award (for category/series and shorter romance) Sophia Bennett, Love Song, Chicken House Winner Young Adult Romantic Novel of the Year (featuring protagonists who are teenagers or young adults) Outstanding Achievement Awards Barbara Erskine is the author of 13 bestselling novels and three collections of short stories that demonstrate her interest in both history and the supernatural. Huge congratulations to a very deserving winner!” ADVERTISEMENT For the first time in the awards’ history the shortlist included both traditionally and independently published authors. In a double first, novelist Kate Johnson was named winner of the first Paranormal or Speculative Romantic Novel Award for Max Seventeen, and was also the first self-published author in the award’s 57 year history to win one of the prestigious RoNAs. The judges ( Matt Bates, fiction buyer for WHSmith Travel; journalist and novelist Fanny Blake; Ron Johns, bookseller and publisher; and Caroline Sanderson, Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Worcester and associate editor for The Bookseller) called It Was Only Ever You “an extremely well-written romance, in which all the threads of the story come together well, with great characters, particularly strong women and a lovely setting, reflecting the contrasting strands of society. It is thirty years since the publication of her first novel, Lady of Hay, which has been in continuous publication since 1986 and sold over three million copies worldwide. Adele Parks has sold over three million UK edition copies of her novels and her books have been translated into …

Ireland Now: the music that defines today’s Irish nation

WESTLIFE In the same period that Ireland was seen as a tax haven, it was also a pop haven. One of the best rock bands in the world, period. The road that Martin Hayes, Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Thomas Bartlett and Dennis Cahill have taken has been a brave, bold and bright one, and, along the way, they’ve created a truly distinctive sound. Top Track: Lucidity Trap. – Siobhán Long ADVERTISEMENT THE GLOAMING The Gloaming: Irish trad’s rich tones embellished with modern hues of jazz, chamber and experimental music What’s fascinating about The Gloaming, a choice collaboration between three Irish and two American musicians, is the embrace of the old and the new. Top track: Paul. – Niall Byrne HARE SQUEAD Hare Squead: pop music with the DNA of soul, R&B, rap and electronic production A product of modern Ireland, Tony Konstone, Jessy Rose and E-Knock are Dublin musicians with an African background who were the first of a new generation to create pop music with the DNA of soul, R&B, rap and electronic production. So overrun were we that international groups took to renting out “the Irish one” (Nadine Coyle to Girls Aloud, Niall Horan to One Direction), but at the peak of the Irish pop mountain sit Westlife. This is music that seeps into your veins, slowly but surely – simply rinse and repeat. The way they embellish Irish trad’s rich, melancholic tones with modern hues of jazz, contemporary classical, chamber and experimental music is something to experience. She has been vocal about her struggles with mental health.  – Jim Carroll SINÉAD O’CONNOR Sinead O’Connor on stage at the Roundhouse, London,  in August 2014.Photograph: Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty Images O’Connor is one of the most important Irish artists of all time, and not just because her singing voice is stunning or her songwriting skills so brilliant. She has called out misogyny and conservatism, and remains a clear and righteous voice in a nation of obfuscators. In 2017, Enya’s once-maligned back catalogue may just represent one of Irish music’s greatest, and strangest, gifts to the world. From their 2014 Hard Working Class Heroes full live band debut to signing to UK major label Sony/Columbia Records in 2016, Hare Squead have been building their audience through a debut EP and support slots with Dua Lipa. While their careers may not be at the heights they once were – Byrne works …

Jonathan Mayhew lets words do the talking in new show

Wexford Arts Centre, Cornmarket, Wexford. This looks really good, though the vulnerability of the installation might unsettle any curator. Initiated 70 years ago by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists when the threat of nuclear Armageddon became real, the clock has been annually adjusted since. Mayhew lets the thought hang there, though at the time Hammerbacher continued: “That sucks.” Then “at two and a half minutes to midnight the snow falls carefully” is surely a reference to the clock that symbolically denotes humanity’s proximity to catastrophe, nuclear and environmental. I Wanted to Write a Poem Works by Jonathan Mayhew. “Data flows past us, like rivers from mountains.” There is no warmth in the glow of information, and the illusory links between individuals provided by technology are no substitute for love. He is perhaps ambivalent about the breakdown. Specifically, Mayhew offers “the possibility that a drop of water could hold all the information about the world, DNA from everything, contained in its tiny form”. He is, one feels, completely against waste and superfluity and questions every stage of art’s intervention in the world. ADVERTISEMENT “I am interested in these moments when identity becomes unmanageable and when ideas of ourselves along with the world around us are thrown into crisis. It’s a compelling image of the technological loneliness that is symptomatic of our time. In the interviews, he notes, the poet does not explain that much in terms of process, meaning or context, “as he did not want to spoil the way people read his work”. The grounding of his work in the world around him and the observational precision of his language – “No ideas but in things” as he famously put it – were enormously influential on the development of US poetry and writing. In each case the vessel is a springboard to variable content. It made headlines in January this year when the hands were moved on. water, and perhaps flowers. Presumably Mayhew sees a memory stick as a container, just as a vase is a container. This to me is not a failure but more a gap where something new is possible,” he wrote in relation to one work. Mayhew has entitled this intervention Mid Sentence, indicative of the conversational engagement he is aiming for with his exhibition. The proliferation of information and the loss of much else is spelled out in a wall text that takes off …

Ireland Now: the music that defines who we are as a nation

She has been vocal about her struggles with mental health. Top track: Madrid. – Louise Bruton JAPE Jape’s Richie Egan: one of Ireland’s most reliably unmissable live acts in the past decade. Since 2015, Saint Sister have stopped many people in their tracks, bewitching them with their coined genre of atmosfolk, a blend of electropop and that Celtic mysticism that gets us all a little misty-eyed. Anchored by an unlikely pair – Jack Talty on concertina and Neil O’Loghlen on double bass, flute and tin whistle – this seven-piece takes as its starting point the rich traditional pickings of west and north Clare. Photograph: Alan Betson Jape is the musical project of singer-songwriter Richie Egan, who got his start as bassist for Dublin instrumental rock institution The Redneck Manifesto. The best – and getting better. Top track: Opening Set. With two solo albums in the mid-2000s and two more in the mid-2010s, Murphy is a live and festival favourite thanks to her compelling technicolour performances. Photograph: Simone Joyner/WireImage Murphy personifies some of the best aspects of the Irish psyche: an emigrant, an outsider, and an avant-garde performer with artistic integrity. There’s range too. Wandering from folky noodling to down-your-neck rock via poppy electronica, Jape makes high-density music full of nooks and crannies and sideways paths. WESTLIFE In the same period that Ireland was seen as a tax haven, it was also a pop haven. If Jape’s appeal was just catchy genre-hopping pop, then there’d be much to recommend, but the band’s presence as one of Ireland’s most reliably unmissable live acts in the past decade pushed them into a higher strata of Irish music royalty. Top track: Long Way To Go. Top track: Overpowered. – Una Mullally Top track: Heathrow. – Jim Carroll NOTIFY Pádraig Rynne, Notify’s concertina player, composer, and chief cook and bottle washer, knows a thing or two about filtering and filleting musical influences for their very essence. Photograph: Courtesy Motley Magazine Every so often, an act that can stun you into silence comes along, pausing whatever else is going on in your head so you can fixate entirely on what they have to say. Top Track: Cnocán an Teampaill. – Siobhán Long ENYA Enya: her back catalogue may represent one of Irish music’s greatest, and strangest, gifts to the world Having sold 75 million records, Eithne Ní Bhraonáin is one of Ireland’s biggest cultural exports. In 2017, Enya’s once-maligned back …