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H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Sue Baker's view...

Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2014.

Winner of the Costa Biography Award 2014.

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize 2014.

Owning and training a hawk has been a life-long dream for Helen Macdonald, she accomplishes her dream as she tries to deal with the anguish of her father’s death. She buys a Goshawk, Mabel and the monumental task of training of this wild bird begins. There are some heart in the mouth moments, sadness too not only in her own grief but the tortured soul of T H White, the author who inspired her with Goshawk, his own record of trying to train a Goshawk. A compelling story that follows Helen Macdonald from dark to light in her quest to let go and become as one with the hawk.

The Costa Judges said Macdonald's book was “a beautifully-layered memoir centred on nature and survival in superlative and original prose.”

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Who is Sue Baker

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. When Helen Macdonald’s beloved father died, she experienced all-consuming grief that seemed unassuageable. That she began to identify with the life of austringer (goshawk trainer) T H White and his books, speaks much for her capacity to love and to move on. Writing with a depth of description that is at times poetic, Macdonald shows how she overcame isolation and loneliness through her attachment to a goshawk called Mabel – a bird with a bolshie mind of her own. Macdonald writes poignantly but avoids sentimentality on taking her reader on this journey of discovery and ultimately of liberation.
~ Carl Hughes


H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2014.

Winner of the Costa Biography Award 2014.

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize 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 GBP800 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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'It just sings. I couldn't stop reading.' -- Mark Haddon

'This beautiful book is at once heartfelt and clever in the way it mixes elegy with celebration: elegy for a father lost, celebration of a hawk found - and in the finding also a celebration of countryside, forbears of one kind and another, life-in-death. At a time of very distinguished writing about the relationship between human kind and the environment, it is immediately pre-eminent'. -- Andrew Motion

'This is a book made from the heart that goes to the heart... It combines old and new nature and human nature with great originality. No one who has looked up to see a bird of prey cross the sky could read it and not have their life shifted'. -- Tim Dee

'Nature-writing, but not as you know it. Astounding. Bookseller One of the most eloquent accounts of bereavement you could hope to read... A grief memoir with wings.' -- Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller

About the Author

Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Falcon (2006) and Shaler's Fish (2001).

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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 1999


Helen Macdonald

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