Summary: Helen Macdonald is a Cambridge academic and an experienced falconer so when her father died suddenly she turned to falconry as a way to process her grief. She began to train a goshawk one of the most vicious members of the hawk family. She had never before been interested in training a goshawk but she became obsessed with the project after her father’s death. Macdonald weaves together the history of falconry with an analysis of T.H. White’s chronicle, The Goshawk, and her own experience of training the hawk she names Mabel.
Review: There is something to be said about coming to the right book at the right time and that this is exactly what happened with for me with H is for Hawk. Much like Macdonald, I lost my father suddenly only two years ago. Her lyrical descriptions of grief struck a chord with me (as they should with many readers). She writes about bereavement, “It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone. Shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try.” She discusses how she tried to explain this to her friends and was met with bewilderment and pity. This is what drove her to train Mabel. She devoted herself fully to the task of taming and training this wild creature. Many might see this as a strange choice but it was a choice that made perfect sense to falconry obsessed Macdonald. While the way she intertwines the narrative of T.H. White’s similar quest to tame a goshawk might be a bit meandering for some readers on the whole it is an intriguing, elegantly written memoir about the intersection of the human experience of grief and the natural world. Her divergences into the history of falconry are fascinating and add depth to this already profound memoir.
Read-a-likes: If you are looking for another tale that talks about the human experience through nature writing check out The Homing Instinct by Bernd Heinrich. If another beautifully written memoir of grief and loss appeals to you then be sure to check out The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke.