H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, published 2014. Winner of the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize and 2014 Costa Book of the Year. Shortlisted for the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. An exquisitely-written literary meditation.
A wholly enrapturing memoir of the year following the unexpected death of Macdonald’s father, Alisdair Macdonald, a respected photo journalist. The author trudges through detailed descriptions of unshared British countryside as she works her new goshawk, Mabel. She succeeds in the essential disappearing act of grief…removing oneself to no longer exist as others once knew you, to become numb and quiet and unfeeling. She projects herself to become the goshawk in order to tame her. Raw, earthy, feral and sometimes disturbing as Macdonald’s limits of humanity are tested.
Macdonald becomes a consumed falconer around the age of 8 when she reads T. H. White’s age-inappropriate The Goshawk. Half of her book is taken up by his writings. Macdonald follows his teachings, which are based on life’s cruel treatment of White, coming from his Cambridge students and former lovers. White treats his hawk with no more love or dignity. But H is For Hawk is a better read because of the inclusion of White. He is gay and a professor at a boy’s school around 1932. He cannot be his authentic self and so we struggle with him as he walks through his own grief about life.
My personal feelings of nature were not altered by reading this book but perhaps yours will. I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing – not just from the wild but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen.
A story of how to remain alive, how to sort through personal grief, how to disappear in one form and reappear in another. Time passes. Benison of sunlight. A wind shifts the thistle stalks and is gone. And I start crying, soundlessly. Tears roll down my face. For the pheasant, for the hawk, for Dad and for all his patience, for that little girl who stood by a fence and waited for the hawks to come.
In the Cool Mona rating system, 5 margaritas go to this poetic entwine of misery and astonishment, elegy and natural history.