When Helen Macdonald’s father died, she felt a pull towards the wild. Having romanticised falconry since a child, she decided to finally buy and train her own goshawk, a bird notorious amongst centuries of falconers for being sulky and unpredictable. Helen has a very different experience with her goshawk, Mabel, and discovers that far from being the ‘hysterical, irrational’ bird depicted in falconry books, Mabel hunts with a blood-lusty vigour, but also likes to play catch with a small paper ball, and responds to patient, gentle human interaction.
Woven between fragments of Helen’s memoir is the story of T.H. White (author of The Sword in the Stone) and his failed attempts to train his own goshawk in the 1930s. Part critical reading, part biography of a man struggling to come to terms with his repressed homosexual desires, White’s story helps Helen, and her readers, understand the impulse behind wanting to capture and train a wild animal, and the exchange that takes place between human and bird, bird and human, in the process.
Macdonald is a poet and it shows in her prose. Her landscapes are smelly, brittle, and vivid. Her lyrical turn of phrase enables a deft navigation of grief without ever collapsing into self-indulgence.
H is for Hawk is the perfect book to snuggle up with when wild weather is lashing against your bedroom windows.