Cover Image: Lean Fall Stand

Lean Fall Stand

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Member Reviews

A compelling narrative in the vein of PD James' THE CHILDREN OF MEN - well-developed characters and an intriguing setting, but a plot that doesn't move as much as it should considering the stakes.
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This book was a very intense read but it felt authentic, with interesting characters dealing with their aftermath of a traumatic experience. The sections based in Antartica around Station K felt so atmospheric and vivid. The rest of the book goes on to explore the aftermath of Robert suffering from a stroke and the long process of undergoing speech therapy and working on new forms of communication. I felt the frustrations of Robert's wife were conveyed effectively. I think this book will stay with me for a long time. Thank you for the opportunity to read this.
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The subject matter of Jon McGregor’s novels is always original and you know that whenever his latest novel is published it will be totally different to anything else you’ve read. ‘Lean Fall Stand’ is no exception. McGregor’s strength is his brilliant evocative use of language and in this novel he takes us  literally to uncharted territory .
The ‘Lean’ part is a dramatic account of three men becoming separated in an Antarctic snowstorm. The men are trying to communicate by radio but with tragic consequences when the man in charge suffers a stroke. 
The second and third parts continue the theme of communication and the ways in which Robert , now repatriated, is able to communicate with his family and supporters.. It is here that McGregor’s superb language skills shine as we try to understand Robert in his frustration to speak and move.
The novel also addresses the impact of Robert’s stroke on his wife and grown up children. Anna, an academic, has been used to living on her own for months or a year at a time whilst Robert had been away on his expeditions but now she is suddenly forced into the role of principal carer for a man who she feels ambivalent towards.
‘Lean Fall Stand’ is not an easy read but it is a remarkable book which is quite unforgettable.
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Somewhere between 3 - 3.5

Having only read one previous McGregor novel (The Reservoir Tapes - which I concede I didn't 'get' having not read the preceding book, Reservoir 13) I was curious to give his latest offering a try, and I have to say I'm glad I did.

Lean Fall Stand is a novel made up of three parts, titled / _ | (the lean, fall, stand of the title), which correspond to the content of each section in relation to the protagonist Robert's life, and the punctuation usage feels apt given that the overarching theme of the novel is communication. Robert is part of an expedition in Antarctica which goes horribly wrong. His life completely changes as a result of what happens in this chain of events (the / part of the novel), and returns home for speech therapy (the _ part). The final section (|) follows his recovery and finding new ways to communicate.

Whilst parts of the novel were very well done, overall I think I appreciated what McGregor was trying to achieve here more than I enjoyed how he went about achieving it... if that makes any sense. There's a lot of skill on show here, and I expect to see this on prize lists later in the year.
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"People said these things, but the words didn't always fit" is a line early in this excellent offering from award winning literary writer Jon McGregor.
His 'If Nobody speaks of remarkable things' and my favourite ' Reservoir 13' rightly placed the author at the leading edge of brilliant writing.
Communication -or lack of it - is the theme of much of the story of Luke, Thomas, Robert and his wife Anna.
Antartica and the dangerous silent ice wastes set the scene for the individual traumas the three must try and overcome. We are immediately alongside the characters inside their minds and shivering in their bodies.
Robert's stroke adds a further dimension to the story. This is a brave turn to write in detail and Jon shows great insight, emotional concern and the reality of caring.
Overall a subject matter I probably wouldn't have read but this writer is at the top of the novel tree for a superb book that will draw you in amongst trials, testing and triumphs. These words definitely fitted the scene very well!
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Lean Fall Stand is a novel of two parts, the first set in a thrilling and dangerous Antarctic storm and the second set in domestic rural Cambridgeshire.  Both parts of the book work together to explore themes of heroism and communication.  

What does it mean to be a hero, and are you more or less of a hero for volunteering to be in a difficult place or for being thrust into the role involuntarily?  How do humans communicate with each other, and what happens when the technology or means of communication breaks down? How can we find other ways to convey meaning?

An interesting book and one which hopefully will be a prize-winner. Five stars from me.

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for honest feedback.
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I am not sure if this book is something brilliant or just a mediocre work of art. The specific form of writing and wonderful way the effects of a stroke were shown were at some points amazing but at some just too much. It was sure interesting enough to keep me reading till the end. Would recommend it to people who are in search of something different.
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What starts off as a familiar story of an expedition to the Antarctic for Thomas, Luke and Robert (who is known as Doc) quickly changes into a much more moving and poignant story when a storm leads to a tragedy. Following a stroke Robert is left suffering from aphasia where he finds it hard to find the words to make himself understood. Robert and his wife Anna have to come to terms with the upheaval in their lives and Robert also, has to come to terms with the events in the Antarctic. Anna, a climate change scientist, never wanted her career to be put on hold at the expense of her husband’s career; however, she had now ended up as her husbands carer. 
A high quality, immersive novel that concentrates on the slow recovery from a stroke and the effectt on the lives of those involved.
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Lean Fall Stand is an intriguing novel that starts in  Antarctic when an expedition goes wrong. The rest of the book is then set in the UK and follows Robert and his wife Anna as they try to overcome the tragic events and rebuild their lives into something very different from before. 
I don’t want to give the main storyline away, but this is essentially a book about communication and relationships. 
It is beautifully written and well observed, but I found it to be a slow burn creating very little tension or drama.
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Hilary Mantel is quoted on the cover praising the quality of writing in this novel, and I affirm her excellent assessment - if you enjoyed Sarah Moss’s Cold Earth, you will get a lot out of this. The meditations on life as a carer are not easily expunged from the memory - this is a narrative that will stay with you.
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It was a bit of a disappointment if I’m honest. The writing was fine. It was creative (albeit a little annoying), the plot was ok, the section with Anna as the main focal point was my favorite. It felt very personal and well-researched. The ideas and messages regarding our use and need for language has been done before and this didn’t offer anything extremely new. Thank you for the opportunity to read this book.
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Station K in the Antarctic - three men checking their GPS survey and taking photographs - one mistake.

Jon McGregor spins a web of normality throughout a story of life changing events,  Every word is measured , every minute detail documented.  This could lead to a slow paced novel, but I compare it to sitting in the garden with your eyes closed and concentrating on all the sounds around.

A book to savour.
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Three men working at a research station in the Antarctic are caught in a sudden storm, the consequences of which are catastrophic and life-changing. One member of the team suffers lasting health effects that will require his family to take on unexpected responsibilities, and they must all find a way to move forward. This description does not really do the plot justice. The first part, in the Antarctic, is a white knuckle ride, as a beautiful day full of the majestic splendours of the landscape becomes sinister and  foreboding in minutes as the weather turns, the wind whirls and visibility drops to nothing. Even these trained and experienced men quickly become confused and lose their bearings in a rush for survival. A different kind of survival awaits one of them, and this struggle is told just as vividly and movingly. For his wife, a life spent largely seperately in the past becomes one where she is expected to  shelve her own work and become a carer. There are no guarantees about the future, but slowly they begin to build something new. McGregor is  a brilliant but subtle writer, full of empathy and honesty about human feeling, and I really got involved with the story and was rooting for the characters. I imagine he will soon be appearing on more award shortlists with this profound novel.
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The novel starts with three men on an Antarctic expedition led by Doc, the most experienced of them.
But a storm comes suddenly and disaster strikes.
In the second, larger part of the book, Doc  - real name Robert - struggles to regain his language after having a disabling stroke.
His journey is told from the viewpoints of several people including his wife Anna.
McGregor is so skilful in the way he traces that uphill return to functioning normally and the way it affects his family.
There is something quite pared back about the writing (this is the first of McGregor’s novels I’ve read), and there isn’t neat resolution to the complexity of relationships changed or to how the telling of the expedition is investigated.
But the author’s language is so skilful that the devastation of losing one’s language - the most primal communication - hits home. 
This is also a novel about the stories we tell and how we tell them to fit our own ideas of narrative. They are fluid and change as we need them to.
In summary I found it interesting and powerful and enjoyed the mix of domestic - the everyday negotiation of relationships - alongside the power of the Antarctic expedition and a world I can only try to imagine.
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I was so excited to read this after only recently discovering Reservoir13! I am now a huge fan of Jon McGregor and think he is a genius! Though, I think I preferred the opening of this novel the most - how the author used quite experimental text to portray the Arctic landscape and following event. It is quite a unique book and I look forward to seeing the reviews.
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Doc is a veteran Antarctic fieldworker working alongside two younger scientists. A brutal polar whiteout descends while they are away from camp. The men's thoughts are frantic; the panic, visceral. 

Then all is calm and quiet. Doc is in a Chilean hospital, having suffered a stroke. His wife, Anna, arrives from England to find him unable to fully understand or use language. Doc's colleagues keep contacting him, wanting to find out how one of his two colleagues had died. 

But Doc can't even say the word 'no'. Anna's rising panic at the prospect of the long recovery ahead is no less overwhelming than her husband's emotions amongst the Icebergs. 

Frustrations and wry humour result, because the right words are always just out of reach.
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Jon McGregor is an excellent author. Although he writes in a very individual way which is not always linear and "straightforward", he still manages to hold your attention.

It seems to start as an Antarctic adventure when two new recruits go off to the Antarctic station to photograph and survey. Here they meet seasoned explorer, Doc, who has his own ways of doing things which aren't always in line with official protocols. When one of them goes missing something happens to Doc and his mind. His stroke and loss of language (aphasia) is described in language that is almost Joycean in its intention. 

Upon his return to UK he needs to recover from this incident and relearn certain skills again,  particularly linked to communication.

This seems to be a central theme of the book- the power of language to communicate and what happens when this power is absent/minimal..

As in Reservoir 13, a central incident has consequences that ripple out across a family and community. It doesn't shy away from the practical difficulties faced by Anna (Doc's wife), the strains of being a carer when you never chose that role. It also gets in the mind of Amira who is new to running a therapeutic group and trying experimental ways to enable the group to tell their stories.
It is a powerful book about language, communication and telling our stories.
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I picked this book up purely for the author.  Even when I saw it was about an Antarctic expedition - something I wouldn't be interested in reading - I still went for it on the strength of the author.  McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is one of my favourite books, and so I wanted to see if I still loved his writing just as much.

Being dubious about the Antarctic setting, I was surprised at how quickly I was drawn in and hooked by this book.  Three men carrying out studies from an isolated station find themselves in an unpredicted and incredibly dangerous situation.  One man, the only experienced member of the team, is incapacitated and fails to act appropriately in order to avoid a tragic outcome.  This section had me riveted, especially as it transpired what the nature of the incapacity was.

The book then abruptly changes setting and pace, but I found it no less compelling as McGregor takes us back to England, and into the world of aphasia and rehabilitation.  We join a speech therapy group, and a wife struggling with her role as carer to a husband from whom she has lived a very separate life.

This book is a raw and real look at how the health we often take for granted can change in a moment, the repercussions of which can and very often do extend further than just the person suffering.  There are no heroes or saints here, just a very realistic portrayal of how people are flung into either patient or carer mode with little prior warning, and how life changing that can be for both.  Identities, relationships and the importance of telling our stories are all at the heart of this book, wrapped in exactly the quality plot and prose which I knew to expect from this fabulous author.
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It was always going to be interesting to see where Jon McGregor would go after the stripped back minimalism of his last novel. One of the foremost UK writers from his extraordinary debut novel If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, McGregor had been honing his style through subsequent books, gradually removing any trace of style, poetic flourishes and even any sense of authorial directing of a narrative to try and get closer to expressing truth in his writing. This culminated in the stark but fascinating beauty of Reservoir 13.

Lean Fall Stand does seem like it is indeed teetering but ready to pull back from the edge, as if the previous experiment in minimalist writing was a little step too far and in fact maybe even still be seems as a kind of stylisation in its approach. Here rather the book opens with a tense sense of drama as three men on a geographical mapping research expedition in Antarctica get caught up in a sudden and dangerous violent storm. Luke and Thomas however have done the necessary survivalist training prior to the expedition and they have an experienced guide in Doc, but when the storm hits for real, it's a different matter to training exercises.

Survival and dealing with the challenges - large and small - that life throws at you is perhaps one of the broad connecting themes you might find in McGregor's works, but then again, that's probably true of many works. What is different about McGregor - as we saw most recently in Reservoir 13 - is that it's not just about surviving the "main event". What follows is also just as important; living with surviving. Survival can mean different things from life or death in a sudden moment to quietly getting up and getting through the day. McGregor's style has been developing to show that nothing is mundane; everything about life is remarkable and nothing is ordinary, or perhaps conversely nothing is remarkable and everything is ordinary.

Such is the simplicity and complexity of McGregor's writing. He captures that early on when describing the survivalist training course and the start of the expedition where everyone is pretending the extraordinary journey they face is nothing special, acting experienced, as if they know it all. Everyone thinks they know what to do until something happens and they have to deal with the events of the moment. This is where McGregor has taken things now. He takes a dramatic situation in an extraordinary place and shows on a deeper more universal level how people react to events outside their experience in "ordinary life".

But more than just act and react, he takes them to places outside their ability to translate effectively or meaningfully into language. Another of McGregor's talents as a writer is his use of language and how he strives to find an appropriate means to capture and communicate the different levels of life as we experience it. This is what McGregor achieves in Lean Fall Stand as the impact of the storm hits and the aftermath leaves Doc with a struggle to deal with a return to ordinary life. The language too struggles to grasp the enormity of existence and survival, memory and action, the complex paths of the brain and its linguistic capacity and ability to communicate.

At times it appears that McGregor is again going down the path of linguistic cleverness with the subjective perspective of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, with words shifting and reshaping themselves, the underlying meaning becoming cloudy or misshapen, but he is dealing with language and communication. That extends from the differences between languages, with Spanish doctors and scientists, educators and therapists each having their own language and terminology, and it extends into the abstracted state of aphasia. That provides moments of frustration as well as humour in how language can communicate and fail to say anything in a phrase such as "still working to establish the facts".

What Lean Fall Stand does brilliantly however is continue McGregor's minute examination of the trials as well as the everyday issues of ordinary lives. In this case it's something that many people will be familiar with - looking after a sick or disabled person and indeed being a sick or disabled person - if perhaps not having seen it documented quite as meticulously as it is here. Documentation isn't perhaps the correct word , although there is something of that in McGregor's writing, of recognising the drama of the everyday and giving voice to ordinary remarkable things that we all experience.
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When an Antarctic research expedition goes wrong, the consequences are far-reaching – for the men involved and for their families back home. Robert "Doc" Wright, a veteran of Antarctic fieldwork, holds the clues to what happened, but he is no longer able to communicate them. While Anna, his wife, navigates the sharp contours of her new life as a carer, Robert is forced to learn a whole new way to be in the world.

A beautiful and impressive book about the wonderful, harsh world of Antarctica, about language and lacking the ability to properly communicate, and about roles in life that (need to) change. The book is full of tension and keeps you hooked throughout. 

This is a first for me by the author and one I enjoyed and would read more of their work. The book cover is eye-catching and appealing and would spark my interest if in a bookshop. Thank you very much to the author, publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.

3.5/5,
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