I have promised before, so here you go: my thoughts on Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, which is one of my all-time favourite books and one which I would throughly recommend.
This beautiful memoir offers an emotive insight into Macdonald’s struggle as she searched for a meaning and a purpose to her life following the death of her father. This is the real focus of the book, with the Hawk, Mabel, and the struggle Macdonald had in training her, highlighting the depth of the sorrow and depression she felt at that time.
The inspiration for the text came from T.H White’s The Goshawk, a book which Macdonald frequently references. This books tells a similar story: White, a former school master turned author, decided to train a goshawk, a pursuit which later turned into an obsession.
In the same fashion Macdonald becomes increasingly fixated on training the hawk: it is as she reaches success and begins to hunt properly with the bird, learning its patterns and following its thoughts, that she sees that she is becoming less of herself.
This touching chapter of Macdonald’s life is written into this fascinating book with true skill: the author clearly has a strong knowledge of the history of hunting with hawks and a number of other rural pursuits, which she showcases with ease.
There are also some areas of near perfect description which highlight Macdonald’s passion and love for birds of prey. The very best example, and the one which has stayed with me ever since I first read this book over a year ago, is the depiction of Macdonald collecting her hawk on a Scottish quay. The breeder is meeting someone else, and has bought both Macdonald’s hawk and the other buyer’s with him. Macdonald describes the hawk she is supposed to take in the most glorious fashion:
“She came out like a Victorian melodrama: a sort of madwoman in the attack. She was smokier, and darker, and much, much bigger, and instead of twittering, she wailed; great, awful gouts of sound like a thing in pain, and the sound was unbearable.”
This stunning, passionate recount of meeting the hawk (which the breeder swapped for the younger bird at Macdonald’s request) is an excellent example of the skilled, sumptuously descriptive use of language that pervades throughout H is for Hawk.
To conclude then, my suggestion is this: READ THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY. Get a copy in any way you can. There are some pretty covers available for those who judge books by their cover, but whether you fancy the flowery one or are happy with the beige, please read the words within, as they make for a fascinating insight into topics including humanity, history and goshawks. Which are frankly the only three topics one should ever take any interest in.