H is for Hawk

Lyrical, thought-provoking, rich with incident and reflection, in turns heartbreaking and hilarious. Winner of the Samuel Johnson prize, Winner of the Costa Biography and overall award, and a number one bestseller in multiple countries all over the world. This eloquent and heart-felt book is at once the story of a relationship between a young woman and a goshawk and also ‘a natural history of the dissolution of the mind and its recovery in an English landscape’.

Helen Macdonald’s father died very abruptly, on a London street, from a heart attack, surrounded by strangers. His warmth and charisma, even in death, made a deep impression on them.  The hole left by his absence in his daughters’ life was one which would take a long, long time to fill. As her grief started to swamp her, Helen turned to the wild in the hope that it might affect a cure; ‘looking for goshawks is like looking for grace’. An accomplished falconer, she bought a goshawk, a bird she had never previously related to and was handed the bird in a cardboard box. She called her Mabel (from amabilis meaning loveable or dear). She wanted to detach from her pain and the world, she wanted to soar above it all and see through the eyes of a hawk.

The journey of this book is the developing relationship between bird and woman while its quest is Helen’s attempt to leave behind the pain of grief and move into wellness. It’s a deeply intelligent book, with rich digression.  She explores amongst other things: the literary history of falconry, (particularly T.H. White), falconry’s dark historical credentials, (Goering kept a goshawk) and the place of animals and landscape in human lives. The book describes a wrestling match between the wild and the human, informing both, and challenging the concept that running away to the wild can cure us. It also manages, despite everything, to be full of humour.