Read this book: H is for Hawk

I’ve found that in the right author’s hands, any subject can be fascinating. Helen Macdonald is such a writer: H is for Hawk is simply outstanding, perhaps the richest, most vibrant memoir I’ve read.
h is for hawk

It’s basic story appears straightforward, arcane and, at best solipsistic or, at worst, self-indulgent: Macdonald recounts how she coped with her father’s unexpected death by immersing herself in the training of a goshawk. Widely held to be one of the most capricious and difficult birds of prey, the goshawk has special allure to Macdonald due to a seminal book from her bird-obsessed youth: The Goshawk by T.H. White. Best known as the author of The Once and Future King, White’s life and his hawking memoir serve as points of convergence and departure for Macdonald’s experiences with Mabel, her goshawk.

If this setup sounds in the least bit interesting, go directly to Booksellers (or your local independent bookstore) and get your hands on H is for Hawk. If, like me, you have no interest in falconry, birds, T.H. White or coping-with-grief memoirs, you will likely still want to get your hands on this book ASAP.

H is for Hawk is remarkably expansive and nothing short of profound. Macdonald displays a fiercely agile mind, a courageous sense of self-exploration and self-disclosure and a flawed, searching, compassionate heart. Macdonald’s prose is crystalline, unadorned, precise. She effortlessly and evocatively conjures the emotions from the moment of her experience: the tension, surprise, melancholy, self-doubt, despair.

Most rewardingly, though, H is for Hawk is dense with fresh, nuanced insights into weighty philosophical topics: humankind’s relationship with the land, nature and animals; our (mis)construction of and (mis)uses of history; our need for belonging, to a place and to others. I’ve never read a more honestly searching, unsentimental and even-handed dissection of these thorny philosophical questions. Macdonald’s quest for meaning is personal, genuine, without agenda and, at times, thrilling.

I really don’t do justice to the substance and scope of H is for Hawk. If you think there’s a chance you’d find this interesting, read this book. H is for Hawk is dazzling. It soars.

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