Friday, 27 August 2021

Book Review: Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor

I managed at the last minute to catch online the session with Jon McGregor at this year's Edinburgh Book Fest . He is an author I have been meaning to read yet never seemed to get round to him. He was not at all like what I had imagined, younger ( should have done my homework), somewhat hesitant in his words but clear so I concluded he thinks about what is he saying. He spoke about this book which was published earlier this year, about his trip to Antartica as art of his research for it, his experience of teaching creative writing at the University of Nottingham. He is one of the Guardian's 10 writers to see live  I was pleased I did, immediately fascinated by the book, went and bought the audio and borrowed the ebook from my local library very surprised to not find a waiting list for it. The audio version was read by Matt Bates

The book starts of with one old hand Robert "Doc" Wright and two novice youngsters post docs Luke and Thomas arriving at a research station in Antartica. This section is as gripping as any thriller as they are unexpectedly and suddenly caught in a storm with Doc up a hll to provide persective for Thomas' photographs, separated from them he returns to base and ***SPOILER ALERT ***suffers a stroke, Luke makes it back, Thomas does not.

The second section transfers us to England, to Robert's wife, Anna, how she finds out what has happened, her trip to the hospital in Chile, their return home, the impact of the incident on her life. Robert is trapped behind a barrier to the articulation of words. How often have we ourselves said "we'd been lost for words", unabe to explain or recant something. My own father, had several strokes, first loosing the ability to communicate and then to move. Reading this section I found myself thinking back to how my own mother must have been in Anna's position, how on earth did she cope and to the unsaid frustrations that must have been going on in my father's head as he struggled to make himself understood. McGregor writes these very well, quite realistically in my opinion.

The third section is in many ways about bravery. Robert gets discharged and ends up going to group sessions for asphasics which address communication through non standard means such as movement, sound, strategies for communicating that circumvent the word that cannot be found and said. Robert initially resents and doesn't want to be at the group. Many would say he was brave going of to the Antartic for months every year, that Anna was brave to soldier on without him, bringing up their children, repairing their house, having her own career, alone for long peroids of time. But this section is about the bravery of tackling the loss of the ability to undertake that most fundamental of human activities, namely to tell stories, to tell another person what you had done in a day, to say how you feel, to ask how they are, to respond to their stories all because you have lost the ability to speak, and to make progress towards communication.

This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I thought it was extremely well written, with an insteresting construction of being part like a thriller, part an insight into how people recover from brain injury and how it effects their family, from mapping the terrain of the Antartic contenant to mapping the terrain of recovery this book has exquisite word use, for example some of the distorted word grouping that the group members say are rhythmic others poetic as they grapple with the complexity of language, McGregor writes it beautifully. I couldn't put the book down. Highly recommended.

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