H Is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

Hardcover, 2015

Call number

598.9 MAC



Grove Press (2015), Edition: 1, 288 pages


When Helen Macdonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer captivated by hawks since childhood, she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators: the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral anger mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel and turned to the guidance of The Sword and the Stone author T. H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her journey into Mabel's world. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of Macdonald's humanity.

Media reviews

Helen Macdonald’s beautiful and nearly feral book, “H Is for Hawk,” her first published in the United States, reminds us that excellent nature writing can lay bare some of the intimacies of the wild world as well. Her book is so good that, at times, it hurt me to read it. It draws blood, in ways that seem curative.

Library's review

What a remarkable book. In our library, this book is cataloged under the Dewey Decimal number 598, which designates books about birds. Given the title, this makes sense, but Macdonald's book is so much more: a blended genre that combines autobiography, biography (T.H. White), a manual for grieving the loss of parents, living alone, and, yes, birds (goshawks). Macdonald writes with astonishing grace and descriptive accuracy, so this read often becomes a delightful meditation on the interplay between language, observation, and emotion. Basically, it is just a joy to read. (Brian)… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
Absolutely wonderful. Helen Macdonald, a skilled falconer, is devastated by the sudden death of her father. To drown her grief, she decides to take on the challenging task of training a goshawk, a particularly difficult hawk to train. In doing so, she comes across her old copy of the book [The Goshawk] by T. H. White (who also wrote [The Sword in the Stone] and [The Once and Future King]) and while reading it discovers the flawed man who couldn't possibly be expected to train the goshawk he acquired because of the emotional scars that he's suffered since childhood. The book moves forward through these two threads: Helen's training of Mabel, her goshawk and T. H. White's story.

To say that Macdonald's writing is exquisite just doesn't do it justice. It's incredibly beautiful and goes a long way in expressing her difficulty in getting through the very dark days when nothing seems to be going right.

"There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are." (Page 171)

Memoir, natural history, meditation on life and death and absolutely wonderful. Very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where memories are.

Helen Macdonald’s father passed away suddenly, throwing her life into disarray. To cope with her loss, Macdonald, a keen falconer, adopted and began training a goshawk that she named Mabel. Macdonald's exquisite prose captures Mabel's beauty:
The feathers down her front are the colour of sunned newsprint, of tea-stained paper, and each is marked darkly towards its tip with a leaf-bladed spearhead, so from her throat to her feet she is patterned with a shower of falling raindrops.

Working with Mabel allowed Macdonald to retreat inside herself, choosing when and how to connect with other humans. H is for Hawk deftly blends daily life, bereavement, and the art of falconry as seen through both Macdonald's eyes and those of author TH White, as described in his 1951 memoir, The Goshawk. Macdonald's memories of her father appear in the narrative without warning, much as they must have popped into her mind as she went about her daily activities.

As time passes, Mabel's training proceeds apace and Macdonald, still lost inside her mind, deconstructs the art of falconry. What is hawking all about, really? Initially Macdonald was caught up in “that imagined world of tweed-clad Victorian falconers,” distanced from the death that is a natural consequence of the hawk’s hunting. As Macdonald becomes an active participant in Mabel's hunting, she realizes “the puzzle that was death was caught up in the hawk, and I was caught up in it too.” Macdonald's journey alongside Mabel's, and her ultimate ability to achieve some sense of normalcy, make for a fascinating story.… (more)
LibraryThing member summonedbyfells
Delighted to hear that Helen Macdonald's wonderful memoir has scooped the Samuel Johnson prize. There was a buzz about this book almost as soon as it was published, chuffed that I bought it early and I found it a stunningly honest, painful account of grief assuaged though a telling direct relation with nature and for me its simply the best birdy book I have read. In my appreciation stakes it stands beside: The Peregrine by J.A.Baker; a minor ornithologist who's off-kilter psychology has parallels with Helen Macdonald's biographical and secondary subject T.H.White. But most of all I love her nature writing, its sharp and emotional and every bit as good as Nan Shepherd or Robert MacFarlane - and in my book you can't really do better than that. I heard her being interviewed on the radio where she described her book as "A love story to nature". It is, and Helen Macdonald is a gem of a writer..… (more)
LibraryThing member Helenliz
I was a little concerned about picking this one up. Like the author, I too, had lost a beloved father. In my case approaching 12 years ago and it still hurts like I've lost an arm or some other critical part of me. In the last year I'd also lost my mother, and losing the second parent somehow manages to feel like you're loosing the first all over again. So it was with some degree of trepidation that I started this, I thought it might be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I needn't have worried, it was as emotional as a piece of limp lettuce.

It is an odd mismatch of a book. The hawk is something I'd barely be able to recognise if it bit me on the nose. So training of a hawk is something outside my range of experience, meaning that the methods and approaches were interesting. The comparison of her training with that if TE White was intellectually interesting, but I'm not sure that is was a necessary diversion. The contrast was clear, they were both in very different situations, emotionally and in terms of experience. I still don't think it added much to the narrative's direction.

The training of a hawk in response to her father's death is an unusual response to grief, but that doesn't make it any less valid. However, grief is an emotion and there was curiously little of it in this book. I didn't get any sense of the depth of her loss. I found her description of herself as an orphan when her mother remains alive as entirely unjustified. Her mother was noticeably absent throughout the book. I found little in this book that I could recognise from my experience. The only elements were the wish to avoid people and the appointment at the GP with depression. That struck a chord, although we arrived at the same place via different routes into that situation and out of it again.

Maybe I'm not able to review this objectively, maybe I can't see someone else's experience as equally as valid as mine. I can't say I enjoyed it. the writing was good, she can put words together well. But it was curiously unemotional, it barely seemed to flicker from a strange flatness of emotion. I can't recommend it,. I didn't hate it, but I can't say I feel positive towards it either. OK is as good as it gets.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
When Helen Macdonald 's father passed away suddenly, she was overwhelmed by grief. To help herself work through this process, she fell back on her love of falconry and decided to obtain and train a young goshawk, a species of hawk that some say is a bit hardheaded and difficult to manage. She details her growing relationship with the hawk, whom she calls Mabel, and their growing bond as the training progresses and Mabel matures.

Ms Macdonald also explores author T.H. White's life and his lesser known book The Goshawk. This book details White's initial attempt at training a hawk; it was quite unsuccessful and used techniques that White himself was ashamed to have used as he progressed as a falconer. Although I've read and loved The Once and Future King this was my first glimpse into TH White, the man. It was interesting to see parallels and contrasts of White's life in his King Arthur books. As a gay man, White struggled to fit into a non-accepting society. He was also anxious to free himself from his disliked profession of school master which recalled to him his own difficult childhood.

Although this is one of my favorite non-fiction books this year, I did have one quibble with the author's experiences.

When you have animals, stuff happens. But when the stuff happens, you need to fess up, make it good with the landowner and pull out your wallet or offer to work it off to make it right. It happened several times, but I'm thinking especially of the incident where the hawk killed several pheasants in a pen of exotic pheasants. Macdonald quickly stashed them in her hunting coat, beat feet out of there, congratulated herself on avoiding an unpleasant confrontation and most probably went home to dine on pheasant.

No. Just no.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ms Macdonald. While author narrations are sometimes a bit sketchy, she is a talented reader and helped make listening to this book a really pleasurable experience.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all of the lives we have lost.”

Helen Macdonald, a naturalist and falconer, suddenly loses her father and it catapults her into an abyss of grief and despair. She then makes a radical decision to obtain a goshawk, a notoriously difficult and prickly bird of prey. This challenge, will absorb her time and focus and it begins to pull her out of her despondent state.
This wonderful, beautifully written book contains many things: it is a memoir, a nature book, a short biography on T.H. White, who wrote The Goshawk, one of Macdonald's favorite reads and it is a look at the complexities of bereavement.

“Here’s a word. Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft. It’s from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob’. Robbed. Seized. It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone. Shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try.”

I listened to this on audio and it is narrated by the author and she does a stellar job, capturing the different emotions with perfect aplomb.
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LibraryThing member bragan
Helen Macdonald is an experienced falconer, who, while grieving deeply in the wake of her father's sudden death, decided to take on the training of the notoriously difficult goshawk. This memoir combines her experiences of training the hawk and of dealing (or, often, failing to deal) with her grief, as well as frequent discussions of the author T. H. White, best known for The Once and Future King, who also wrote a book about training a goshawk -- badly, in his case -- and whose experiences of that, like Macdonald's, reflected many of his own psychological issues.

I have to say, I was not at all sure about this book at first. It was over-hyped to me to the point where I was almost resistant to reading it, and it seemed at first as if it might consist largely of the sort of self-indulgent self-psychoanalysis that sees everything in the world as a metaphor for the author's own life, which doesn't really have a lot of appeal for me. Plus, the writing style, half-casual, half-poetic, takes some getting used to.

But it grew on me, a lot. The prose really is good, and the emotions and experiences Macdonald writes about feel very honest. The things she talks about, from the lives of hawks to the life of T. H. White, are interesting. There are some good insights and thoughtful reflections. And ultimately -- and most importantly -- Macdonald very much respects and understands her hawk as an independent, non-human entity, not as a mere prop or tool with which to work out her grief, and she makes that gratifyingly clear by the end.

I don't know that this blew me away the way it seems to have done with some people. But I found it a very worthwhile read, nonetheless.
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LibraryThing member larryking1
Whenever a poet decides to change their routine and try their hand at prose, readers should rejoice. The clarity! The precision! Every word a highly polished diamond! Think of the memoirs of Mary Karr or the hyper masculinity of James Dickey; the mysticism of Patti Smith or the roundabout journeys of Bob Dylan. So, upon discovering that Helen Macdonald had published a memoir of sorts about her involvement with a Goshawk, the fearsome raptor of the sky, coupled with my predilection for birds of any sort, I was more than receptive. What a story! Think of a bookish, English, woman of letters, convulsed by grief over the death of her beloved father, who retreats into her childhood interest in falconry in the acquisition of a force of nature she names Mabel. Suddenly, the reader is faced with a story like no other. But wait, there was such a story, half a century ago, when Brit literary icon, T H White (Once and Future King, the Camelot stories) published The Goshawk, which Macdonald borrows from liberally to describe how NOT to train a Goshawk. Now the conventional story would be the raptor's fierce being, the antithesis of domesticity, falling under the spell of the author, but herein lies the beauty of this story. It is, in fact, the total opposite! Macdonald is subsumed into the wild, primeval essence of this bird! "Hunting with the hawk took me to the very edge of being human." And from that point onward, her prose, like Mabel, hovers over the reader as a heavenly presence! Destined to become a classic!… (more)
LibraryThing member JBD1
About a third of the way through, I realized there were times when I was holding my breath for several pages on end, I was so tense. This is a lovely book, both as a personal memoir of Macdonald's grief and her training of Mabel (a goshawk), and also as a meditation on and response to T. H. White and his own account of goshawk-training. Beautifully written, and made to be savored.… (more)
LibraryThing member Alphawoman
Couldn't finish. Usually enjoy science based books but that imbecile White she keeps intertwining her story made me think she didn't have the material for her own book.
LibraryThing member Alphawoman
Second attempt to read this book. Enjoying it so far. Must.nit have been in the correct frame of mind first time.
LibraryThing member LibroLindsay
I've been in such a melancholy mood lately, and while it's nowhere as intense as losing a parent, it was a great comfort to listen to this book. One of the reasons I like turning to books about nature is for the disconnect from the human world, how the lives of flora and fauna have little regard for us beyond how we encroach on their environment. Macdonald sums this up nicely at the end:

"Goshawks are things of death and blood and gore, but they are not excuses for atrocities. Their inhumanity is to be treasured because what they do has nothing to do with us at all."

Contrary to what it appears other people struggled with, I found the passages about T.H. White interesting in how she compared her own grief and training process with his. The audio of this was fantastic--I wonder if I would have been as into the book had it not been for hearing her voice tell her own story. Wonderful book all around.
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LibraryThing member bell7
When Helen's dad, a photographic journalist, dies suddenly she is devastated. An experienced falconer who has loved raptors since childhood, Helen decides to go out and train a goshawk. It's a way of removal to the wild and dealing - or not dealing with her grief, and while she trains Mabel, she also reflects on T.H. White and [The Goshawk], in some ways mirroring her own experiences.

I expected a story of going to nature to deal with grief. But Helen's story is much more complex than that. She's reflective, she's hard on herself, and she doesn't necessarily think that her relationship with Mabel was a panacea for her hurts. Still, her experience and that of White's makes the reader reflect on how we deal with pain, what relationship we have with both people and the natural wild world, and what it means to truly live. There are so many aspects of this story that will be fascinating for book discussions and it's the kind of book I look forward to rereading because I will have a different experience every time.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
Although the title of this memoir suggests that it is a book about a hawk, it is equally a book about the author and it may be apt to see H as also standing for Helen. Her motivation for training a goshawk after the untimely death of her beloved father seems clear. She will use this challenge as a way of dealing with the death and as an excuse to retreat from other responsibilities and relationships. This gives her an excuse to put her budding academic career on hold and to return to her childhood fascination with raptors. The relationship she develops with her young goshawk (Mabel) becomes surprisingly complex and nuanced. Initially, Helen embraced Mabel as everything she wanted to be: “solitary, self-possessed, free from grief and numb to the hurts of human life.” However, as the relationship develops, she begins to identify more with other aspects of Mabel’s nature. Helen sees herself as a “watcher,” a trait her father urged her to develop. Ultimately, falconers also are reduced to watching their birds capture prey. However, Helen begins to participate in the killing by administering the coup de grace as Mabel eats her captive alive. Also, she is drawn into the role of accomplice by poaching pheasants from preserves. At one point, Macdonald describes how falconers deceive their birds into relinquishing their prey by offering them a small piece while camouflaging the remainder. As Mabel is trained—never really tamed—Helen becomes increasingly wilder and more withdrawn. As the two become closer, Helen experiences happiness once again by her small successes and by watching Mabel soar freely. Ultimately, Macdonald’s experience with Mabel teaches her about the place of death in the scheme of life and thus helps her come to terms with her own depression and her father’s death.

Another strength of McDonald’s memoir is how she imparts knowledge about the ancient art of falconry. For anyone not familiar with this sport, there is much to be learned and appreciated here: how falconers develop a kinship with these creatures, harnessing their killing potential for their own purposes; how the history of falconry has made it exclusively a male sport and one dominated by the wealthy elite; how certain birds are more easily trained than others, with goshawks being particularly difficult. In this regard, Macdonald includes a large amount of material from T. H. White’s book about how he attempted to train a goshawk. His motivations were not unlike Macdonald’s: a means to deal with his own depression and an excuse to withdraw. However, White was not as skilled in falconry as Macdonald and his efforts eventually failed. Unlike White, Helen recognizes that society’s perception of hawks as predators interferes with appreciating their true nature and consummate skill. Her development of Mabel was not always successful. Indeed, Macdonald shares several instances of setback, doubt and fear. Despite what often seems to be a battle of wills, Macdonald ultimately succeeds with intelligence, knowledge and understanding. As a counterpoint, White demonstrates ineptitude and frustration often relying on cruelty in his attempts to train his hawk.

The book is well written and its structure is definitely engaging. However, Macdonald’s tendency occasionally to drift away from the stronger aspects of her narrative into lyricism often seems misplaced and overdone.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Over the years I have caught glimpses of various hunting birds - the occasional osprey and several eagles, including golden ones, up in the Scottish Highlands, and, just a few months ago near Coulsdon I came across a kestrel that had just brought down a wood pigeon. I am fairly certain, though, that I have never seen a goshawk. Judging by Helen Macdonald's marvellous book even the most fleeting glimpse of a goshawk would be burned into ones memory for ever.

This book might more accurately have been called 'G is for Goshawk' for although Macdonald offers a potted history of the broad ambit of falconry, it is with goshawks that she is principally concerned. Wracked with grief at the sudden death of her father she seeks therapy through buying a young goshawk, whom she names Mabel, and undertaking to train it. All hawks, it seems, are troublesome creatures, and training them is a battle of wills that stretches bird and falconer to their very limits. Macdonald's goshawk is certainly no exception and she describes her struggle to bend Mabel to her will.

The descriptions of the bird's appearance, and its movements (whether in outbursts of furious temper or, later, its graceful flights launched from Macdonald's fist, are masterful, almost hypnotic. Once fully trained, the partnership between hawk and hawker is as close as that between shepherd and sheepdog, though executed with infinitely more grace.

The book is, however, far more than a simple account of Macdonald's experiences training the goshawk to do her bidding. She gives us a detailed history of the falconer's art, a deep insight into the natural history of the hawk family, and a dazzling biography of T H White, now best known for his works 'The Sword in the Stone' and 'The Once and Future King' which did so much to crystallise the public's understanding of, and fascination with, the Arthurian legend. Macdonald's interest in White is, however, prompted by another of his books, the less well known account of his own attempts to train a goshawk. This chronicle, simple called 'The Goshawk' captured MacDonald's imagination as a girl, and ultimately inspired her to acquire and train her own bird. White's experience with his own goshawk, like so much else within his tortured life, was not a happy one, and the book is, by all accounts, a difficult and tortuous read. That is far from being the case with Macdonald's wonderful work which also serves to show that even the deepest grief can, gradually, eventually, be overcome.
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LibraryThing member reading_fox
A brutally honest account of one women's struggle to come to terms with the death of her father and cope with her grief, interspersed by ramblings and quotes for TH Whites books especially Gos, and also some anecdotes about her training of a Goshawk called Mabel. The Hawk stuff was the most interesting, her personal biography sort of equivalently so, but in a voyeuristic why do I need to know so much about her personal life kind of way, and the White meanderings very boring interludes to be skipped over. Maybe slightly more interesting to those who've read his books or studied his life, but only as a counterpoint to the opposite directions she's taken.

Helen was raised as a typically middle class english girl, her parents both loved her and had money sufficient for treats but not extravagances. She went to university and started her career as a professional academic. Her father was a photo-journalist who introduced her to his hobbies, and the book opens with his death from heart attack, and quickly moves on to how this devastates her life, even though she'd been living independently for some time, the knowledge that the rock of support he'd always offered her, had suddenly crumbled. We follow her into and through her depression, and her withdrawal into a world dominated by caring for Mabel, and training her to fly. Helen has previously owned and flown other hawks so this isn't a completely amateur effort. She does know, care and understand what she's doing. I found it strange that there was so little reference to her other hawks though. It is alsi strange that there was so little personal interaction at any other point - for the period of almost a year, she has a few short meetings with friends and family and one - pre-mabel - "car-crash" of a relationship, that is not described in any detail (again an odd omission when she is so frank about her mental states). It is reassuring that single women don't feel the need to rush into relationships, but the complete absence of any kind of romantic interlude throughout the whole book perhaps indicates a bit just how disturbed she was at this time.

Points to praise - the acknowledgement that the english countryside is completely artificial product of thousands of years of human management, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but that it isn't 'natural'. Secondly a profound absence of anthropomorphism on behalf of Mabel. She is a Hawk, and doesn't see the world in anything but in a Hawk's eye. Helen sometimes mistakes this, but always comes back to the correct interpretation.

Not really my cup of tea, but t times very powerful and engaging. Sadly these moments of deep pathos were then spoilt by trite commentary and speculations about TH White, of whom I could hardly care less. A talented author I would be interested in finding out what else she has written on less personal matters. At times though the impression given was that I had nothing better to do with my time so I wrote a book about my experiences, which is not the point that was being made.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
After the death of her father, Macdonald works through her grief by adopting and training a young goshawk, Mabel whom she calls “Thirty Ounces of Death in a Feathered Jacket.” This lyrical book is part memoir and part reflections on nature. It also is informed by T.H. White’s The Goshawk. While I’ve never read that book The Once and Future King and Sylvia Townsend Warner’s biography are among my favorite books, so I appreciate the back door biography of White. And I can’t help but love Mabel.… (more)
LibraryThing member jnwelch
H is for Hawk is a beautifully written memoir in which Helen Macdonald recounts her struggles after the unexpected death of her beloved father, and her efforts to reassemble her life by training a goshawk. She has had experience training falcons, but goshawks are more difficult and less predictable. Taking this on reminds her of a book she was fascinated by as a child, The Goshawk by T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King. In it White recounts his own flailings and failings in trying to train a goshawk. She learns more about White, and begins to research him, learning he was tormented his whole life by inner compulsions considered unacceptable by society. An insightful biography of White becomes threaded through Macdonald's own story, and intertwines with her experience with her goshawk, Mabel.

Whenever a "trained" goshawk like Mabel flies from the hand, the question is whether it will choose to return. Would it be better to continue to fly, and be free in woods and fields, enjoying the thrill of hunting and the abundance of tasty prey, such as rabbits, pheasant, and grouse? Or would it be better to return to the human who has been her companion, and who also is a reliable source of food? Every shared journey may be the last.

An example of the gorgeous writing in this book:

"{M}y heart is beating like a fitting beast, but she's back on the glove, beak open, eyes blazing. And then there is a long moment of extraordinary intensity.

The goshawk is staring at me in mortal terror, and I can feel the silences between both our heartbeats coincide. Here eyes are luminous, silver in the gloom. Her beak is open. She breathes hot hawk breath in my face. It smells of pepper and musk and burned stone. Her feathers are half-raised and her wings half-open, and her scaled yellow toes and curved black talons grip the glove tightly. It feels like I'm holding a flaming torch. I can feel the heat of her fear on my face."

Being with the hawk is an adrenaline-filled escape from her loss. "{O}ut with the hawk I didn't need a home. Out there I forgot I was human at all. Everything the hawk saw was raw and real and drawn hair-fine, and everything else was dampened to nothing".

This is a great book that you won't want to miss. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
What a brilliant, eye-opening book this was for me. Lost in grief after her father's sudden death, Helen MacDonald, an experienced falconer, decided to try to bury herself in the wild world by training a goshawk, one of the most difficult raptors to work with. The project took her to a very lonely place, and brought her back from the brink; ultimately, it changed her outlook about many things, including love, loss, wildness and humanity. Reading about it taught me a new vocabulary, a bit of the history of falconry, and justified my excitement at the sight of a circling hawk over my neighbor's fields. It did not make me want to take up hunting with a hawk, but I certainly appreciate why some people do. This book deserves a place on the shelf next to Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for its insight into the natural order of things, and the beauty of its prose.… (more)
LibraryThing member pokarekareana
Helen Macdonald's world is thrown askew by the sudden death of her father. An enthusiastic ornithologist, she decides that this is the perfect time to procure and train a falcon. This book details that journey.

The one redeeming feature of this book is that it is exceptionally well-written, with some beautiful prose that captured her experiences. I suspect this is the reason why the book has proven so popular, and has won awards.

I struggled to find anything else good to say about this book. I read it for a book club meeting, and if I hadn't felt compelled to push on through for that reason, I would have given up within the first twenty pages. I found the story-within-a-story-within-a-story structure really started to grate after a while. I have extremely limited interest in matters ornithological, admittedly, but I found the characters so peculiarly obsessed with their feathered friends that the story seemed quite sinister at times.

A rather fowl reading experience.
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LibraryThing member jjaylynny
I think I have a problem with grief memoirs. They just make me feel inadequate. Do I not miss my mother enough to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and then write a book about it? Do I not grieve for my father enough to train a hawk (and then write a book about it)? Hmmm. A moving immersion in grief and (to me) a rather awkward juxtaposition of a personal hawk training journey and that of TH White, who pretty much screwed it up big time.

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LibraryThing member ctpress
When Macdonald, a Cambridge lecturer, poet, and naturalist, was in her late 30s, she lost her father to a heart attack on a London street. Then she lost herself. Torn by grief, she acquired a goshawk—a huge, bloodthirsty dinosaur, “the birdwatchers’ dark grail”—to plug the wound. Macdonald, an experienced falconer, withdrew from people to train her murderess, transforming her fridge into a morgue for raw animal parts. From a review in The Slate.

Training a goshawk doesn’t seem to be the most obvious choice for handling grief - and for a long time one questions how this almost impossible “hobby” can bring healing - so seclusive and difficult a process of training. But slowly you are drawn into a mysterious world of deep relationship with the animal world. It’s both beautiful and frightening.

There are many memorable passages - like the first time she meets her new goshawk - and the first time she let it loose - afraid it might just fly away and not come back. Interspersed in this memoir is flashback of her relationship with her father - but also a fascinating account of the writer T. H. White and his conflicted life - another reclusive individual whom Macdonald shares a speciel bond with.

Read by Helen Macdonald herself. Normally I’ve had some bad experiences with authors reading their own work, but in this case I just loved it. It was a perfect reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
I know I'm an outlier here because Helen Macdonald's "H is for Hawk" has been heaped with praise, but I didn't enjoy this book at all. I found Macdonald's personality to be fairly grating as an author -- she comes across as a sort of know-it-all that would be a wet blanket at parties. Others have felt profound grief but Macdonald writes as though she cornered the market on it.

A good author can make me interested in a topic that I formerly didn't know anything about... a great author can get me to share their passion. Macdonald doesn't manage either in regards to falconry (or training goshawks...) I just found it to be a weird combination of uppity and dull.
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LibraryThing member a_forester
While initially I despaired of getting through what seemed to be a pretentious vocabulary, I'm glad I pushed on. Macdonald taught me the value of a writer taking their time and choosing words carefully. She was building a hard experience, one that takes patience and time and reading the book became a metaphor of the story. Sharing her experience of training a Goshawk, she also shares her memories and reflections on the death of her father and on her research into the life of T.H. White, also a trainer of a Goshawk. Her insights into the life and mind of this writer is surprising and interesting serving as a bridge between her own contemplation of familial love and the ties that bind us to wild things.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
This beautifully written memoir is technically about hawks, but really it's a study of grief that anyone who has lost someone can relate to.




0802123414 / 9780802123411
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