Review – H is for Hawk

Cover of H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldH is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
Received to review via Netgalley

This is one of those quiet books that links nature and human grief… without really sentimentalising it. Macdonald trains Mabel (the goshawk) as a way of reconnecting with herself, of dealing with grief about her father’s death, and she writes about that beautifully without ever reducing it to a picture-perfect moment of “nature healing” or something. I actually found it pretty painful to read: recognising some of the grief, the depression; knowing all about that disconnection.

I can see why people don’t enjoy it. It’s had good press, and won awards, but it’s not an exciting triumph against adversity or a horror story written to wring the heart, something like A Child Called It. It’s a meandering through grief and back to the world, with literary allusions, glances back over the shoulder at history, at T.H. White. In a way, it’s a biography of T.H. White, as encapsulated in his own battles with his hawk — I feel like I understand him more now through Macdonald than I ever did through reading his work.

It’s not an uplifting story. It’s not a triumph. It’s uncompromising and lovely, like the hawk herself, and you have to accept the beauty as it comes, with the raw meat and grim struggles it entails as well.

Rating: 5/5

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