Reviewing H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

I read this book while flying to Lisbon. Usually I try my absolute hardest to fall asleep but in this case I wanted to read. Didn’t matter that it was the crack of dawn or that I was severely sleep deprived, I couldn’t stop reading. H is for Hawk is the story about a woman, the author Helen Macdonald, who decides to buy a goshawk, Mabel, after the sudden death of her father. She wants to train the hawk and in having Mabel in her home and life she starts to come to terms with her bereavement.

Helen’s own experiences with Mabel are mixed with extracts and Helen’s analysis (this is such a dry word but believe me when I say that nothing in this book is remotely dry) of T. S. White’s 1951 study The Goshawk. She read the book when she was a child and it was the beginning of her love for birds and goshawks. White’s and Helen’s methods of training hawks are so different that reading about them side by side somehow kept me grounded. Helen’s prose is so lyrical that I found myself being swept away in it all, yet when I read about some of the things White did to Gos (his imaginatively names goshawk) I landed back on earth with a thump.

For Helen training Mabel was a way of coping with her grief. When I started reading about how she felt as if she was losing herself, becoming more hawk than human I was gripped. She was spending less and less time with other humans and more and more time with Mabel. As her story progresses Helen comes to realise that  ‘hands are for other human hands to hold. They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks.’ How beautiful is that? All of H is for Hawk is like this, beautiful language used to describe such crippling grief.

I read someone describe this book as ‘delightful’. I don’t think it is delightful, I think it is necessary and profound. It is a part memoir, part chronicle of grief and depression, and part showcase of White. I have never read anything like it and I don’t think I ever will. Every single award and accolade H is for Hawk has ever won it deserves.

This is one of those books that everyone must read – I really can’t recommend it enough.


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