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Lean Fall Stand

by Jon McGregor

Kate Rogan of LoveBooks put me onto Jon McGregor and I’m so grateful she did!  Gosh, what an amazing writer.  Maggie O’Farrell author of the wonderful, award-winning Hamnet wrote “A spectacular book… it does what Jon McGregor does so well: examine the widening ripples of a single event.  I read it again as soon as I’d finished” and so did I!

Lean Fall Stand (punctuated like this:  /_ | … get it?) starts out as an Antarctic research expedition with two, fresh-faced field workers supported and trained by Robert ‘Doc’ Wright, a veteran guide and surveyor.  A terrifying storm catches them unawares and disaster strikes.  Doc was there on the ice when the worst happened. He holds within him the complete story of that night but is no longer able to communicate. Instead, in the wake of the catastrophic expedition, he faces the most daunting adventure of his life: learning a whole new way to be in the world. Meanwhile Anna, his wife,’s own life is put on hold as she is thrown into an entirely new, unbidden and daunting life as a caregiver.

Lean Fall Stand … looks as though it’s going to be about an Antarctic expedition. It will doubtless be concerned with character and endurance under extreme pressure; struggling figures will cross the wilderness; sublimity and quotidian banter will tell upon each other. Partly that’s right; a storm strikes in the first pages and the ensuing battle for survival is narrated with riveting immediacy. But the second and third sections of this three-part book unfold far from the ice floes. Conditions remain challenging, endurance and discipline are required more than ever, but the work in hand is now the gruelling task of living with a brain injury and (for others on this most testing expedition) the task of caring for a man who has lost his powers of speech…. McGregor transliterates slurrings, half-words, and phonetic misfires, repeating the same few phrases while keeping emotion and atmosphere mobile. – The Guardian

I’ve never read anything like it. It quite brilliantly captures the attempts at speech of those suffering from aphasia – the impaired ability to understand or produce speech as a result of brain damage.  “He floored the numb faceness of his raw.  No. Rawed the rub. Numb the face rub. What was wrong?” The reader knows what Doc is trying to say and lives through his frustration at not getting the words out.  I can’t stop thinking about this singular book.  I highly recommend it.

McGregor’s precise, well-judged prose attests both to the power of language and to the havoc created by its loss. – Financial Times

Lean Fall Stand… takes the challenge of the Antarctic desert as a starting point to explore loneliness, disorientation and the crevasses between people back in the populated world. – TLS

Leaves one wondering which is more terrible: to be caught in an Antarctic storm or deprived of the ability to speak. – The Scotsman

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