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.
As a naturalist she has somehow acquired her bird’s laser-like visual acuity. As a writer she combines a lexicographer’s pleasure in words as carefully curated objects with an inventive passion for new words or for ways of releasing fresh effects from the old stock. Her one overriding concern is always to provide an exact transcription of what is there to be seen or to be felt.
Read the full review on The Guardian
This book is a soaring triumph. It is a joy to follow Mabel and Macdonald’s flight out of such disconsolate scenes as one settles into a new roost and the other gradually comes to realise that “hands are for other human hands to hold. They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks.”
Read the full review on The Telegraph
The hawk-book’s form is perfect. It prickles your skin the way nature can when you are surprised by an animal in your path. Some books are not books but visitations, and this one has crossed its share of thresholds before arriving here, to an impossible middle perch between wilderness and culture, past and present, life and death.
Read the full review on Slate
Assured, honest and raw — she manages to keep her grief at bay until she doesn’t — Macdonald’s book is full of poetry, ranging from unfettered elemental grief, frustration, and rage, to pinnacles of liberating exhilaration. Much like Macdonald’s description of Mabel, “H Is for Hawk” is a soaring wonder of a book, “a thing of perfect triumph.” While there’s an awakening for Macdonald at her father’s memorial, an occasion that brings home the realization that “[h]ands are for other human hands to hold,” it’s clear, all along, that it required her journey with Mabel to get there.
Read the full review on Boston Globe
That is what Macdonald tells us so eloquently in her fine memoir — that transformation of our docile or resigned lives can be had if we only look up into the world.
Read the full review on LA Times
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