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.
BUY THE BOOK
Read my review of McGregor’s Reservoir 13.
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LEAN FALL STAND by @jon_mcgregor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5eP via @Sandra Danby