2016: 98. H is for Hawk

“Forty-five minutes north-east of Cambridge is a landscape I’ve come to love very much indeed.”

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald

Now, sometimes I feel like a moron when I start a post.  When a book is one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 (New York Times Book Review), on the best book of the year list for NPR, Time, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Slate, Amazon, Vogue, etc. etc., you don’t really need me to tell you that it’s a good read.  Which is just what I have to say - I never thought I’d be interested in a book about being a falconer, but this is a heck of a work, and a damn fine read.

It’s Macdonald’s memoir, about how, in the wake of her father’s death, her life fell apart, and how she was healed through her training of a goshawk - one of the fiercest predators on Earth.  But it’s not a Marley and Me feel-good bunch of pablum - it’s a hard look at her life, at the realities of hunting, and birds, and what being wild really means. And it also grapples with the legacy of a book written by TH White about his experience raising a goshawk.  It’s really like nothing I’ve read before - in someways it reminds of A Year of Magical Thinking in it’s clear-eyed look at grief.  But it’s also a meditation on nature, red in claw.  And a critique of White. And description of the beauty of falconry.  All these threaded together makes a book that is hard to put down, and that is so much more than the sum of its  pretty amazing parts.

Is it perfect? Maybe not - it was hard for me to understand how an adult woman’s life could collapse so completely upon the death of a parent.  It felt like there was something missing, some explaination of why she was laid just so low.  Of course we all handle grief differently, etc., etc., but still, she writes as if her father’s death destroyed her life - something we might expect if a child, or if a spouse was lost.  Also, the writing is intense - it took me a few chapters to stop thinking it was a bit overwritten.  But then I was drawn in to MacDonald’s work, and the hawk’s world and the alienness of it all.  So, if you somehow didn’t believe every major media outlet, listen to me and give H is for Hawk a chance.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017