Winner of the 2014 Costa Book of the Year Award
Winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize.
Costa Biography Award Winner 2014
'In real life, goshawks resemble sparrowhawks the way leopards resemble housecats. Bigger, yes. But bulkier, bloodier, deadlier, scarier, and much, much harder to see. Birds of deep woodland, not gardens, they’re the birdwatchers’ dark grail.’
As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T. H. White’s tortured masterpiece, The Goshawk, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest.
When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. Then she fills the freezer with hawk food and unplugs the phone, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.
To train a hawk you must watch it like a hawk, and so gain the ability to predict what it will do next. Eventually you don’t see the hawk’s body language at all. You seem to feel what it feels. The hawk’s apprehension becomes your own. As the days passed and I put myself in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her, my humanity was burning away.’
Destined to be a classic of nature writing, H is for Hawk is a record of a spiritual journey - an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald's struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk's taming and her own untaming. At the same time, it's a kaleidoscopic biography of the brilliant and troubled novelist T. H. White, best known for The Once and Future King.
It's a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to try to reconcile death with life and love.
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A delicious collage of word images
This book doesn't grab you and hold you in the way that many other books do, but it is totally addictive because of the way Helen MacDonald paints images with words. At times her thoughts seem to jump about, from 'now' to her past, then to 'White', the author of a book that seems to have driven her all of her life, then back to now again.
One deeply feels the love - hate relationship that she has with Mabel ... her Goshawk; overwhelmingly it is love, but Mabel is a wild animal with a very firm view of her place in the world; which frequently leads her to projects that are not included in Helen's plans.
I love this book and highly commend it.