Book Review: H is for Hawk-Helen Macdonald

h is for hawk

I wanted to master this world that no one knew, to be an expert in is perfect, secret language.

Nature and everything in it is beautiful, mysterious, and self defining. The world harbors some of the most incredible natural views and wonders for all the eye to see. Then there is beauty in the world that is arcane, not easily revealed and takes time to discover. I, myself, think that literature is a deep part of nature and within words, there is a mystery that lies enclosed. In Helen Macdonald’s novel H is for Hawk, the author recounts her living interaction with nature and her loss within it.

College professor Helen Macdonald feels the weight of death and loss when her father dies. The grief she bears pours into her life, and she decides to take up the challenging task of training a goshawk to help her relieve her pain. Macdonald takes us through the journey of acquiring the goshawk and the rigorous and exhausting training of a hawk. While following her story, the author also includes her reading of T.H. White’s The Goshawk. White’s book is his early experience and training of a goshawk in the 1930’s. The struggles of both White and Macdonald in training a goshawk emulate the relationship people have not only with “taming” animals but with nature. The novel goes on to recount on how Mabel (Macdonald’s goshawk’s name) and the author turn from trainer and trainee into predator and bystander. Falconry is technical and elite, requiring the skill and patience. Macdonald gives us all the details and rules of hawks, “…every part of a hawk was named: wings were sails, claws pounces, tail a train. Male hawks are a third smaller that the female so they are called tiercels.” Macdonald’s relationship with nature and Mabel are beautiful as they connect her with her memory of her father and all things that remind her of him. It is grief that pulls her towards goshawks but it is the admiration of nature that pulls her out of it.

The laughter was because there was no way of incorporating these signs of life into the fact of death. I laughed because there was nothing else I could do.

H is for Hawk is not for everyone. It definitely was not for me, because I did not like this book at all. I was so happy to finally be done with the book and to never read it again. It is extremely detailed and meticulous which I understand because it was the process of how to train a hawk. Although it had some beautiful prose, it was boring and uninteresting. I also did not like the “dissertation” of White’s novel within H is for Hawk. Why was it there?  This book was raved about among readers and the literature world alike. It even won the Costa Book of Year award. So again it depends on the reader if you like it or not. One pro was, I don’t read many non-fiction books, but this one did read well and not like a typical non fiction book. This book just wasn’t for me and I really struggled with idea of putting it down and not finishing it. I gave this book one star on Goodreads, as I have read worse (haha). If you want to read Macdonald’s book, go ahead as it is beloved among many; however, you’ve been warned!

Happy reading!




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