H Is For Hawk: Bird Is the Word

h is for hawk

 

I kept seeing H Is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald on Important Lists, since I first noticed it on Netgalley last year. I wondered if it was a children’s book (it’s not). I learned that it was about a woman who trains a hawk after the death of her father. What is the big deal about a woman and her bird? I thought. Finally, after seeing it praised everywhere, I gave in and read it. I’m not sure if it was all that I expected or not.

Helen has been obsessed with birds of prey and training them to hunt since she was a girl. She trained falcons in the past, but never a goshawk. Goshawks have a reputation as difficult birds, too wild for most people. After the sudden death of her father, Helen can’t stop thinking about goshawks. She remembered a book she read as a girl, The Goshawk by T.H. White, a harrowing tale (for the bird) of White’s attempt to train a goshawk.

Helen drops most of her relationships to train a young goshawk she names Mabel. She spends all of her time in her house alone with Mabel for months on end. I can only imagine the smell. When Helen and Mabel finally leave the house to continue training outdoors, Helen’s reclusiveness has made her nearly a little bit mad, and she shuns most people she encounters.

Helen describes the depths of her grief vividly throughout her memoir. She uses Mabel to avoid her normal life. Her teaching position ends and she doesn’t look for new work, she loses her house. It’s all Mabel, all the time. She spends so much time with the goshawk that she begins to believe she and the bird are the same. Sometimes her thoughts take bizarre turns.

Mirroring her own experiences with Mabel are White’s with his bird Gos. I really didn’t like these interludes. White was terrible to that bird, and MacDonald’s attempts to psychoanalyze him just irritated me.  She feels a kinship to him because they are broken people, but I didn’t see them as all that similar.

For me, the most enjoyable parts of the book are the times Helen spends with Mabel training and hunting. Mabel’s personality shines through. The changes from companion to killer are beautifully written. Birds of prey are amazing to me. I once saw, or rather heard, a hawk take a blue jay from the air. All that was left was a cloud of blue feathers where the bird had been a second before. How people control that power is unfathomable. Have you read about the 13 year old Mongolian girl who trained an eagle? An eagle! They go after small dogs around here.

 

hawk

 

The written is lyrical, even though at times I didn’t know where she was going with it.  There were passages about nature and animals that were my favorites. I keep thinking about H Is For Hawk even days after I finished.

H Is For Hawk is something really different. I’m not in love with that title though. It doesn’t say much about the book, other than there is a hawk in it. Stay tuned for my memoir C Is For Cat, a woman attempts to get her cat to stop hiding in the bathtub because he’s afraid of wind.

Recommended.

11 comments:

  1. That sounds like it has a unique plot but I'm not sure it's for me.

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  2. I'm with you on the title - it doesn't really fit the book at all.

    I can understand why you disliked the T. H. White sections, and I think that in some sections the psychoanalyzing is a bit stretched. In general though I liked those sections for a different reason: I liked how they demonstrated how we can be connected to writers and other people through their work. It felt mediative in some parts, as she strove to understand her connection to him and his book.

    My review of it is here: http://www.booksuniverseeverything.com/2015/04/28/h-is-for-hawk-by-helen-macdonald/

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    1. That's interesting, Emily. I never thought of that, but I could see that. Thanks!

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  3. There is so much to love in this review. The idea of this book is so unique, but let's face it, I have no idea if I'll ever get to it. I think maybe it would surprise me if I did...but in the right ways? Not sure. I know one thing...you made me laugh my ass off with this: "Stay tuned for my memoir C Is For Cat, a woman attempts to get her cat to stop hiding in the bathtub because he’s afraid of wind."

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    1. I honestly don't know why I felt the need to read it. I don't regret it! And, heh, thanks! :)

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  4. I bought this book for my sister (who is OBSESSED with birds) a while back and I was really intrigued by the premise myself.. Might have to borrow it from her when I next visit! Great review, especially the paragraph at the end :P I'm interested to peruse the rest of your blog!

    Rachel x

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    1. Thanks for visiting and the comment, Rachel! I hope you get to borrow it.

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  5. LOL What a weird coincidence! My memoir is going to be titled S is for Scottie, about how my scotties convinced me to move to Scotland while hunting voles in our backyard. ;)

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    1. lol! The only thing my cats convince me to do is nap.

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  6. I started reading this book and wasn't in love with it. I kept thinking about the person whose hawk Mabel was supposed to be! That poor person! They must have come to talk to the hawk person and been like "This hawk is larger, older, and more disagreeable than I was promised!" (Poor that person.)

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    1. Yeah, that was a dick move. She tried to make it sound like some spiritual connection thing, but that would suck for the other person.

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