Following the unexpected death of her beloved father, research scholar and experienced falconer Helen Macdonald follows her own path through grief while adopting and training a young hawk. The bird on which she sets her sights is one usually avoided by falconers: a goshawk. Notoriously stubborn and reputedly difficult to train, the goshawk also served as the subject of a memoir by T.H. White, author of the Arthurian retelling The Once and Future King. As Macdonald recalls White's miserable failures with his own goshawk, she stumbles through her bird's training and her own sadness. The exercise is immersive, forcing distance between herself and others, creating a solitude populated only by her winged companion Mabel. She almost becomes birdlike in her isolation, trying to interpret Mabel's actions and facilitating the bird's brutal hunting methods. As human and hawk come to a sort of understanding, going on dangerous forays into the British countryside and trespassing on the property of others, the author begins to grant her hawk, and herself, release.
In this one-of-a-kind book, Helen Macdonald has written a memoir of her grief, a dedication to the art of falconry, and an examination of the life of author T.H. White. While this may sound like an odd mix of subjects, at the heart of her story is an illustration of nature's power to heal. This memoir should inspire readers to look more closely and carefully at the natural world around them, and perhaps seek solace there. H is for Hawk won the 2014 Costa Book of the Year award.
Reviewed by cs, 07/15. Other reviews by cs.