When Helen MacDonald's father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer captivated by hawks since childhood, she'd never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators: the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk's fierce and feral anger mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T. H. White's chronicle The Goshawk to begin her journey into Mabel's world. Projecting herself "in the hawk's wild mind to tame her" tested the limits of MacDonald's humanity.
By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement, a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, and the story of an eccentric falconer and legendary writer. Weaving together obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history, H Is for Hawk is a distinctive, surprising blend of nature writing and memoir from a very gifted writer.
©2014 Helen Macdonald (P)2014 Isis Publishing, Ltd. UK
I don't review every book--only books I feel strongly about--hence the many 4-5 star vs 1-2 star reviews. Just my opinions--hope they help.
First let me start by saying that I was wary of buying the audio version of the book when I found out that the author was the narrator. This often goes terribly wrong. I was really looking forward to this book and didn't want it ruined by a narration problem. I need not have worried, MacDonald's narration was absolute perfection. The timing, the tone and her ability to capture the emotion and the energy of the story were all spot on. I loved listening to MacDonald tell her own story.
The writing was beautiful, tragic, poetic, insightful and difficult listening in parts. At first I hated the look back at TH White's life and experience training his own hawk. Then, gradually because of MacDonald's deft storytelling ability I felt sympathy for White and his misery. What's more, having recently finished reading the bio of Alan Turing and I was fascinated by the similarities in White's and Turing's childhoods and experiences in school.
This book offers a window into MacDonald's experience of complicated grief. It shows us how being in and a part of nature and wildness helped her find her way through. I found myself completely engaged and totally wrapped up in the history, detail and experience of falconry. However, be aware that this is a story about hawks--fierce predators and involves a fair amount of discussion of hunting, blood, and prey. All that said, it is a beauty of a book that allowed a glimpse at life through someone else's eyes. I loved it.
I have a much greater knowledge of this "sport" and see through the book there are deeper meanings to it. However the exquisite reading was the reason I kept listening. I wonder if I would have even finished one chapter if it were in paper. This book moved me greatly-. Grieving for her father and her quest to understand White, as well as herself. Marvelous.
I have not read the print edition. However, I think the author's performance of her work is truly wonderful.
Her feeling in the narration is beyond compare.
Yes, this is the first book I have ever listened to that I could hardly stop listening to.
The best listen ever.
What an eye opening book to your own thoughts on growing up, loss and grief. But don't get stuck on these words. Reading about the above themes can be difficult but the author integrated research on a naturalist who shared a passion of hers - falconry. I've had to stop reading to google and learn more about this fascinating hobby but also about the bird itself and its strengths and weakness (in a dummy-proof way). With her experience of raising Mabel she looks into herself to help her out of her mourning. This book is poetic both in writing about this animal and in writing about her experience with her father's passing. It was a true joy to read.
I had read the reviews but they did not prepare me for this book being so sublime.. Helen Macdonald is a wonderful writer and narrator. A beautiful experience to listen to this book.
My love of birds was taken to new heights by Helen Macdonald. She introduced me to a whole new world as she described in magnificent, emotionally charged detail, what it is like to train these amazing creatures. And yet, in the end I found the human was the one who learned the true life lessons from the art of falconry, and this left me yearning to learn more!
I have listened to several audiobooks since joining Audible but this is the first I have listened to that is read by the author herself. It brought the experience up to a new level for me. The emotion was intense and events conveyed almost as poems. I honestly hated for it to end
But, the author doesn't have this problem. Wow! Probably not for everyone... But, I believe everyone should read it. Or listen to it... As Helen Macdonald does a superb job telling this story herself.
Thank you Ms. Macdonald!!!
Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!
This is a book like none I have experienced. The writing is nearly sublime, and Helen Mcdonald narrates as only a person deeply involved in the story can.
I rated it 5 stars across the board because, like other reviewers, I was astounded at the language and range of this book. It deals with grief and recovery and loneliness and attachment. And it informs about her experiences with hawks as well as the somewhat parallel story of the author T. H. White and his efforts in dealing with life and a goshawk.
To me, this was also a deeply disturbing work of art. There can be no doubt about the love - and the respect - that Mcdonald has for her bird Mabel. Yet (and, for me, this was the elephant constantly in the room) she has had this bird trapped and dominated and trained to her will. Never in the book is this need to control a wild and free thing really discussed. Mcdonald refers to her hatred of killing and the reservations she must overcome about her role in this. She mentions that looking at pictures of birds is not sufficient for her - seeing them in life stimulates and satisfies something in her. So, why not bird watching? Or migration studies?
Hunting with birds of prey has, of course, a long and romantic history. The process of capturing, training, and working these birds undoubtedly requires skill and courage. And her book is very effective at showing the healing power this process had for her. It's a personal and revealing book, yet I could and cannot for the life of me get inside of the mind of a person who can most appreciate a living and wild thing by dominating it. In some ways, I left this book feeling close to Helen Mcdonald; in that one startling way, I never could be.
It's part of the fascination of this extraordinary listen.
This is an outstanding memoir and very well read too (I wasn't very confident about this, because the reader is the author herself, but well! Helen, you got it right!).
Grief and falconery, literature and biography.....
Deeply original. A gem.
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