Cover Image: Lean Fall Stand

Lean Fall Stand

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'Lean Fall Stand' is another stunning novel from the author of 'Reservoir 13' and 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' - a surprising and increasingly moving read. The novel unfolds in three sections: in the first, McGregor describes an accident involving three researchers from the Antarctic Research Institute; the second is told from the perspective of Anna, one of the researchers' wives as she receives news that her husband has had a stroke and travels to be with him; in the third section, we follow his very slow process of learning to communicate again, told from multiple perspectives. 

I was immediately immersed in the story, and McGregor evokes the setting of the Antarctic and lie on a research expedition very effectively. However, it was the second and third sections which I found most powerful, as we see how Anna, a distinguished climate scientist, is forced to adjust to becoming a carer for a husband whose regular absence has been a constant in their marriage until now. McGregor's writing is beautiful but, as in 'Reservoir 13', understated, and the novel thus avoids sentimentality in the final part of the novel. We see a process of healing of sorts - not just for Anna's husband but for the other members of his therapy group - but we never lose sight of what has been irrevocably lost.  

This is such an absorbing read that I finished most of it in a single evening but it will stay with me for a long time. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me an online review copy.
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Years ago I picked up Jon aMcGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and bought it on the strength of the first page. He still has the ability to stun me with a single line, each one like poetry. Set on an Antarctic research expedition that goes dreadfully wrong, we see the far-reaching consequences unfold. This isn’t about heroism though. This is about trying to pick up the pieces when things fall apart. Robert ‘Doc’ Wright is experienced, an Antarctic field veteran, so he understands what has happened but he can’t communicate. Anna his wife has now become a carer, and he has to find a new way to be in the world. Split into three sections, taken from the title. Lean is based in the Antarctic, while Fall and Stand are the aftermath. I loved the first part and I was interested in how Doc would recover from a stroke, the main symptom he’s left with is aphasia - an inability to speak characterised by long pauses, stuttering and being unable to find the words, I have similar language problems in relapse and recovering speech is not an easy journey. He has a speech and language therapist and the treatment is well researched and written. It’s great to see a disability and recovery depicted in a book with this much detail. However, things seem to stall by the final third, and even though I wanted to love it, I started to find it dragging a little and I didn’t finish.
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Robert 'Doc' Wright has years, almost a lifetime, of experience in Antarctic field work, spending months there at a time. Then one day things go horribly wrong. What should have been an easy, fun excursion, merely to take photographs, turns nasty when an unexpected storm blows up, cutting visibility and communications, and disaster strikes. One of the men dies, and Doc suffers a stroke. He is the only one who can say for certain what went wrong, but he's now in a position where he can't put even the simplest ideas into words.

This latest novel from Jon McGregor takes the reader from a situation where men are fighting for survival in Antarctic wastes to a different kind of fight for the return of normality and the ability to express oneself. 

The story is split into three parts, relating to the three words that make up the title; the incident in Antarctica, Anna's trip to South America to visit Robert in hospital and organise his return to Britain, and the beginning of Robert's recovery. I hadn't quite understood the nature of the story from the blurb, and found it a rather difficult read fro personal reasons; family members have suffered strokes and some of it is a little close to home. Having said that I found this a perceptive insight into how the stroke victim themselves must find the strange new world they find themselves trapped in. 

Something that I would have liked to see explored further was the relationships between Doc and his wife, Anna. There's a hint that their marriage, while seeming fine on the surface, is not as solid as it might be, and that their relationship depended on them leading very separate lives. Now, not only are they forced together, but Anna has to abandon her work to become a carer (not really part of the story here but I felt the automatic assumption that his wife would drop everything to help was worth more consideration. Would Robert have done it if their roles were reversed? Would medical staff/social services etc even have expected it if their roles were reversed?) These thoughts are really by-the-by though. I'm not always a fan of McGregor's work but this is an intimate and moving account of  a man reduced to an almost child-like dependence and inability to express himself, and his slow recovery from that state. One of his best.
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This is a story in three parts, one for each word in the title. The first is a nail-biting account of an Antarctic expedition that goes tragically wrong; the other two deal with the aftermath and its effect on the humans concerned and their relationships.

Both aspects of the novel were skilfully executed. The descriptions of Antartica were beautiful and cinematic, and I felt the scientists' growing fear as they battled to survive. In the second and third parts we see the challenges and frustrations faced in the aftermath of a life-changing event by the victim and their family, and witness part of the laborious road to recovery. The theme of communication (or lack thereof) creates a cohesive thread throughout the book, and the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of various main and secondary characters.

I preferred the pacing of the Antarctic section, but enjoyed the humanity and authenticity pervading the other parts, and (unusually for me) felt compelled to finish the book in a day. I would have liked something more from the ending, but overall this was an excellently written and very enjoyable novel.

Many thanks to 4th Estate and NetGalley for the ARC.
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Thanks to NetGalley and 4th Estate for the complimentary advance review copy of this book.  

This was a moving story. I felt that the author depicted the far-reaching impact of life changing events and illness really well. Without giving too much away, the story is centred around an Antarctic expedition which doesn’t go according to plan, and the impact of that.
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I wasn't familiar with any of Jon McGregor's previous work, but there was something about the premise of this that drew me in. Split into three sections, Lean Fall Stand follows the aftermath of a tragic research trip to Antarctica and the impact it has on the lives of those involved. More than just a story about survival, Lean Fall Stand explores our need to communicate and - more importantly - be understood.

I went into this book with no idea of what to expect and it ended up surprising me in the best possible way. If there had been a little more character development then it would have been a definite five star read, but it was absolutely brilliant regardless.
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Begins as a thriller and then heads off in a most unexpected tangent. Don't expect a story in the vein of Reservoir 13, McGregor's most famous work. The story begins in Antarctica as a violent storm endangers the lives of Thomas, Luke and Doc and goes on to outline the repercussions of that fateful day.

The thriller section is tense and gripping and the subsequent sections are human and emotional without becoming sentimental. The writing is superb. Concise and dramatic; lyrical and expansive. The use of language is fundamental to the story and the difficulty characters find in expressing themselves is conveyed beautifully.

There are so many facets to the story and the areas of human life and relationships it explores. Highly recommended.
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What I enjoyed most about this book was the structure. It’s split into three parts - Lean, Fall and Stand. Lean follows the three men (Doc, Thomas and Luke) on the expedition which has tragic consequences. Fall (my favourite part) focuses on the aftermath and told from the view of Anna, Robert’s wife and now his full time carer. The reason I like this part the best is because it’s the most moving and honest. It portrays the reality of recovery and the difficulties and frustrations with communicating, and McGregor writes in a fragmented way to reflect this. So clever! The last part, Stand focuses on Robert’s slow recovery as he joins a speech therapy support group and is told from multiple viewpoints. This part felt a bit confusing as the pace changed  but it may have been intentional?! 🤔

I would have liked more character development in the book as I didn’t really feel I knew anyone that much. However, McGregor explores life changing illness, the repercussions on families, the feeling of isolation and learning how to communicate again in a smart and innovative way. I just wanted to connect more emotionally but I didn’t. Oh well 🤷🏼‍♀️ an interesting story
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Jon McGregor is one of the most original novelists I have read and ‘Lean Fall Stand’ doesn’t disappoint. It is a novel of three parts, beginning thrillingly at an Antarctic research station when a storm suddenly separates the three expedition members. We know tragedy happens, but not what or how. Surviving expedition guide Robert ‘Doc’ Wright suffers a stroke and is unable to tell what happened on the ice. 
‘Lean Fall Stand’ is Doc’s story as he struggles to recover his ability to do the smallest daily personal tasks, to choose the right word and pronounce it correctly, to make himself understood. The change of pace between part 1 ‘Lean’ when the accident happens in Antarctica, and part 2 ‘Fall’ is abrupt and shocking. Through the viewpoint of Doc’s wife, Anna, we realise with a jolt just how bad his communication issues are and what this means for their marriage and family, his career, his work colleagues and the enquiry into the accident. Just as the three men are alone and lost in the Antarctic storm, Doc and Anna are alone and lost when he returns home from hospital. He cannot fasten his trousers; she is his carer. Each feels unable to connect with the other. 
This is a beautifully written novel about a tough subject and McGregor does not flinch from making both Doc and Anna unreachable personalities at times. This is not a sentimental novel. It is a novel about communication and the lack of it, whether limited by geography, failed radio and communications equipment, aphasia [language deficits caused by damage to the brain], or simply not speaking to our loved ones about the things that matter. Part 3 ‘Stand’ sees the language connections beginning again as Doc begrudgingly attends speech therapy class. Anna, struggling not only with Doc but with her two children who upbraid her for her mono-syllabic conversation, takes refuge in the garden where winter is turning to spring.
I finished the book never understanding clearly what happened on the ice. The mystery that McGregor hints at – legal issues, failed equipment, bad decisions, corporate responsibility – felt like a plot technique to move the story along. As Doc is unable to express himself clearly, even at the end of the book, we will never know what really happened at Station K. It’s as if the novel ends part-way through Doc’s recovery and there is more to tell.
Thought-provoking. At times uncomfortable, and difficult to read about the process of stroke recovery. Skilfully, and beautifully, written.
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'His lack of words was so absolute that he couldn't quite fathom what was lost.'

Jon McGregor's new novel is a subtle and moving exploration of language and identity, and what it means when we try to communicate. The first section ('Lean') opens at a research centre in Antarctica, where a seemingly harmless decision soon spirals into catastrophe. Part Two ('Fall') takes us to Santiago, where a wife has to bring her husband home after suffering a stroke. Part Three ('Stand') focusses on the ongoing recovery of Robert 'Doc' Wright in therapy. 

As is often the case with McGregor, the initial incident is simply a precursor to exploring the fallout of an event, as the ripples spread wider and wider, changing the lives of everyone involved. What becomes apparent as we progress through the book is the astonishing control McGregor has over language: in the opening section the short, sparse sentences and white spaces of the text in between is a subtle metaphor for the icy expanse of the surroundings. As Doc struggles with his stroke, so too does the text struggle to make sense at times, as words are misspelt and sentences are unfinished. As his wife struggles to look after him once he has been returned home, she too struggles with communication while she has to balance her work life at the same time.

With astonishing glimpses of his typical lyrical prose, and with a beautifully controlled sense of the limitations of words to sometimes describe how we feel, McGregor has presented us with a profoundly human and humane study of a marriage, and of a society. This is a book to read and savour, where what is unsaid is often as important as what is said. Quietly devastating, this is a definite highlight of the year:

'Robert rubbed his face, slowly. He turned to go back to his seat, losing his balance as he did so. He leaned to one side, and just as it seemed he was falling, Rachel was beside him and holding his weight. She helped him back into his seat. Nobody spoke. The wind moved through the bare branches of the trees outside, and their shadows moved across the floor.'

A book that deserves to be short-listed for literary awards. 5 stars. Stunning.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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To be honest I would be entirely happy reading a note that McGregor had written to the milkman, as each of his books I read seem to assimilate and examine the world in such contrasting ways. His writing is never less than sublime, and the extraordinary world he presents in this one is deeply chilling and packs an absolutely powerful emotional punch, through his use of vivid description and beautifully realised characterisation. If it's not in contention for one of the major literary prizes this year, well, that would be a travesty....
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Reservoir 13 was one of my favourite novels of 2019 so, when I spotted the chance to read a review copy of Jon McGregor's new novel, Lean Fall Stand, via NetGalley, I didn't hesitate to request it. McGregor uses this story to thoughtfully explore concepts of communication and heroism and I was absolutely captivated by it from the first page to the last. Similarly to Reservoir 13, Lean Fall Stand is a slow-paced, character-driven work that uses clever wordplay and mirroring to impart its ideas. I appreciated how malfunctioning radios and satellite phones are responsible for thwarted communications in the Antarctic, whereas damaged brain cells fulfil that function in England. Robert as an Antarctic explorer embodies our traditional idea of heroism, yet I understood his struggles to overcome his injury and Anna's efforts to keep her job and household functioning while caring for and supporting him, to be just as heroic even though society at large tends to overlook such everyday bravery. I loved how McGregor portrayed each of his characters through speech and silence, allowing me to fully understand their predicaments and also their motivations, both positive and negative. The pace change from the initial fast-moving Antarctic accident to the slow pull towards recovery worked very well for me. Even though I didn't particularly like either of them, I found myself willing Robert and Anna on to persevere and hoping that the investigation team would not destroy the fragile new relationship they were trying to build. Lean Fall Stand won't be a novel that appeals to every reader, but I loved it!
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This is a strangely beautiful and poetic book.
Nature at its most extreme is the core of the first section (lean) with the workers battling to survive. Fall and Stand are less dramatic but provide battles of a different kind for Robert trying to recover from a stroke, and Anna, his wife, forced to suddenly become a carer and battling to accept huge changes in her life as well. The focus of all the parts is the importance of communication.
I did feel the last part was a bit too long though and almost a textbook for ways to run an aphasia support group
Thank you to netgalley and 4th estate for an advance copy of this book
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Are authors better off writing from experience or relying solely on their imagination? It’s a thorny issue, and there’s a lot to say in favour of writers not being constrained by the parameters of what they’ve lived through.  However, I’ve always felt that sensations and events are important to provide raw material for artists to work upon. 

Jon McGregor’s latest novel, Lean Fall Stand takes its inspiration from two real-life experiences – a trip to Antarctica as part of a writers and artists programme run by the British Antarctic Survey and supported by the Arts Council, and a spell attending a self-help group for aphasia sufferers as part of the research for this novel.  These two subjects may appear unrelated, but McGregor masterfully weaves them together into a work about communication, or the lack of it. 

The title refers to the tripartite structure of the novel.   Lean, the first part, is set in Antarctica.  Newby geographers Luke and Thomas are out on the ice with their guide Robert “Doc” Wright when they are suddenly overcome by a storm.  They are driven apart and desperately try to contact each other by radio.   In the second part, Fall, the protagonist is Doc, now recovering from a stroke which has affected his speech.  He tries to express his memories of the Antarctic but finds it close to impossible to do so.  In the third part, Stand, Doc remains one of the main characters, but the narrative takes a wider angle as it describes therapy sessions for aphasia sufferers which Doc attends. 

In an interview for The Guardian, McGregor admits that in Lean, Fall, Stand, he knowingly upends the readers’ expectations by creating a sort of genre-crossing hybrid.  The first part of the book skirts thriller territory, with its staccato delivery and Boys-Own-style action. But, as McGregor declares somewhat condescendingly in the interview, he is no Lee Child and has no intention to be.  This is evident in the second and third parts of the book, where there is a noticeable gear-change. 

Perhaps McGregor succeeded too well in his endeavour to create the anti-thriller.  The scenes set in Antarctica are nail-biting and gripping; the second part less so, but it still holds the reader’s attention with its innovative ways of portraying the challenges faced by an aphasia sufferer (and his carers).  The third part, however, I found terribly boring.  Or rather, let me rephrase that.  It is interesting enough, but only if read as the equivalent of a “true story” magazine article on aphasia patients – one of those articles with the disclaimer at the bottom that “names have been changed for privacy”.  There’s no denying the sense of authenticity throughout the novel, and in the right mood it is probably a moving read. In my case, I couldn’t wait to move on to my next book.
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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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