July 2014, Random House, 320 pages, Ebook, Review copy
Content: grief, internal questioning, some strong language (I think I remember some...) tissue needed, some humour
As a child, Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer, learning the arcane terminology and reading all the classic books. Years later, when her father died and she was struck deeply by grief, she became obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She bought Mabel for 800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals. H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald's struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk's taming and her own untaming. This is a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to reconcile death with life and love.
Like Helen, although not to the same extent, I've been fascinated by birds of prey since I was little. There's just something incredible about them, how they hold themselves, how they hunt. They are simply magnificent, which is why H is For Hawk caught my eye. I definitely got insight in to how birds of prey are cared for and trained in Helen's personal book. I confess to dreading White's passages, and skimming over them as although I know his work influenced Helen's own training, I didn't care for him at all. I wanted Helen's trials and triumphs as she slowly worked her way through grief, became a recluse and then re-entered the world, so after several sections reading all of White's passages when I began to dread each one I skipped it. I'm sorry, they weren't for me at all.
Helen isn't entirely alone, as she has friends who help sometimes knowingly and sometimes unwittingly in training 'her' goshawk, who is full of personality and teaches Helen ever so much about life. The other main reason I was intrigued by Helen's story is that having recent lost a grandfather I was close to, I thought I could understand her grief. I did, although I can safely say I didn't buy a hawk! My family, least of all my cat and pet finches wouldn't have been amused.