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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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Chris Lilly on 30-01-15
Superb Autobiography, superb audiobook.
Absolutely exquisite auto-biography. It's the story of healing from grief and loss, through the good graces of nature, landscape, and a hawk called Mabel. Interwoven with Helen MacDonald's own story is the weird life and writing of T. H. White, particularly his book 'The Goshawk', telling the sorry story of his attempt to 'man' a Goshawk. His healing through writing is an essential part of her story. It's poetic, honest, wears its knowledge very lightly, and I loved it. As narrated (really well) by Helen MacDonald herself, the warmth and intimacy of a fine book is enhanced in the audio version. On its own, this is a great advertisement for audio books.
14 of 16 people found this review helpful
By Sydney on 29-12-14
Lives up to the hype
I was hearing praise for this memoir from all quarters and finally gave in and spent a credit. It's a worthy winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize and all its other accolades- poetical, funny, mesmerising, full of insights and information. If you're looking for a book that seizes you by the lapels it might not be for you; it can be cool, standoffish, un-snuggly--a bit like its titular hawk. After the first hour I at least was completely hooked and it brought a rewarding mood of contemplation to my work week. Perfectly read by the author, who unlike many writers sounds like a professional reader (in fact, just realised to my surprise that it was read by the author, in writing this review!). Highly recommended for bookish lovers of nature.
12 of 14 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Cleon on 05-03-15
A delicious collage of word images
Any additional comments?
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.