Winner of the 2014 Costa Book of the Year Award
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.
©2014 Helen MacDonald (P)2014 Random House Audiobooks
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.
This book had me half wanting to send it back whilst also being captivated into just listening to that little bit more. It gave me a strong sense of calm and connection, but also disconnect. I didn't engage with the two sides of the book equally and felt a little bored sometimes at her review of White's life rather than her own. I was also a little disappointed by her lack of real emotion and tone when she was reciting conversations and experiences. I don't think I would recommend it, but I also can't deny the light, dazed feeling it has left me with.
"The cure for loneliness is solitude"
“The hawk had filled the house with wildness as a bowl of lilies fills a house with scent.”
Enter a world that is intense with feeling and imagery, a book about books, history and becoming and loving the wild around us the wild in us, accepting the death of a hunt but respecting the dead, a book about loss.
“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.”
― Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk
“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, H is for Hawk
My brother recommended me this book, I had overlooked it, but as soon as I entered the author's lair I was trapped by the beauty of its language, the intensity of feeling some so primordial, like smell and blood, the desire to fly. She exposes her understanding, her love, her most personal vulnerabilities like few authors dare, this is not a novel this is a confessional a sadness shared an obsession explained and she manages to bring to life, moments, details that were a mystery a dark art, that has been practiced thru the centuries.
This is an opportunity to enter a world of secrets and memories passed on from person to person through time through diverse civilisations, an opportunity into a magical world where perfect killers become bonded with a human through and act so mysterious and delicate it is hard to believe, the dedication the patience it requires.
“Everything about the hawk is tuned and turned to hunt and kill. Yesterday I discovered that when I suck air through my teeth and make a squeaking noise like an injured rabbit, all the tendons in her toes instantaneously contract, driving her talons into the glove with terrible, crushing force. This killing grip is an old, deep pattern in her brain, an innate response that hasn't yet found the stimulus meant to release it. Because other sounds provoke it: door hinges, squealing brakes, bicycles with unoiled wheels - and on the second afternoon, Joan Sutherland singing an aria on the radio. Ow. I laughed out loud at that. Stimulus: opera. Response: kill.”
― Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk
"Compelling, intriguing, moving, memorable."
It was possible to really know Helen MacDonald's experience and emotions. Her relationship with the Hawk is genuine and intimate, almost like a human relationship. Her training of the Hawk and the parallel story of her grief were moving and heart-warming.
Mabel the Hawk is so well described that I feel I got to know her as well as a real person. She is driven by instincts but also has a playful side that is quite unexpected.
Helen reads her story as if she were talking to you in a room. It is totally real and unpretentious such that you believe you have met her in person.
It made me both laugh and cry, but mainly it gave me a big grin. How about the line: "the peregrine falcon cocked her head and watched the Spitfire (flying overhead) with a professional stare"
Although I am sure it would be good to read this book (and be able to re-read some special moments) I think it is better to have it read to you by the author.
"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.
"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.
"Great book, brilliantly read by the author"
A very rich book and wonderfully read. It brings together the personal journey of the author through the period where she is coming to terms with the sudden death of her father while training her hawk, and her analysis of the life and memoir of TH White who writes about his attempts to tame a similar a hawk. And much on history of falconry and on natural history.
I went it with somewhat low expectations but ended up really liking the story and the way the relationship between Helen and Mable developed. The narrator was good but could have done without the attempts at American accent in places (when narrating dialogue between the protagonist and an American colleague/ friend).
This is a well written and extremely well read book. Like many recent 'nature' books it is literary and knowing, and all the better for it.
A lovely book.
"Open a new world"
This is a wonderful story of loss and struggle; it is also a story intwined with the changing season and is very brave document of coping with grief told sensitively and lyrically.
Helen MacDonald is author and narrator as well as falconer. I know nothing much about falconry. I have seen flaconers displays and fly their birds at county shows or something, but this ancient art of training and flying raptors is obviously more than an ancient curio seen in museum tapestries or carvings and illustrated medieval Books of Hours etc. She brings alive the passion and pain of living and bonding with a goshawk and weaves into it the story of T H White's experiences not only as a fellow goshawk trainer but also as a very damaged man.
She tells the story of her life, that of her father's and of T H White with a truth and understanding that makes it more than the sum of its parts. I think too knowing that she is also the narrator makes is much more of a personal story. Very well done!
Thoroughly enjoyed this. Great journey and I learnt a lot too. Was a little disappointed that this was from an experienced falconer and not someone with less experience, but beautifully written and a great listen. Read very well too.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.