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Title: H is for Hawk
Author: Helen MacDonald
Content Warning: Brief, scattered language
When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.
Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.
I have always had a strong interest in raptors and falconry, and was interested in this book solely because it had “hawk” in the title (hence its appropriateness for the assigned book challenge cattegory). H is for Hawk is extremely well written, and this is one of those rare occasions when I think a book lives up to its best seller hype. The descriptions of the English countryside made me pine for my home across the sea, and I love love loved Mabel the goshawk. The central core of the story—Helen’s grief over her father’s death—is handled with grace and raw honesty. And the prose was gorgeous. MacDonald definitely has a way with words.
The only thing I didn’t love was how much page time was devoted to T. H. White and his own goshawk, Gos, about which he wrote a book called—go figure—The Goshawk. While some of the details were nice and it provided a nice juxtaposition for Helen’s own experience training Mabel, it felt at times like a rather tedious book review. I would rather just read The Goshawk myself instead of a synopsis scattered throughout another book. This would have been a solid 4 without it.
Score: (3.5 / 5)