One of the best-selling novels this year and winner of the Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize for 2014, H is for Hawk tells the emotional yet uplifting story of Helen Macdonald. Coping with the loss of her father, she channels her mixed inner feelings into training a very temperamental and unruly goshawk named Mabel.
As an avid lover of nature and animals, I willingly picked up this book eager to learn more about birds of prey, but that is not exactly what I got. Instead, I was taken through a range of emotions from empathy to occasional laughter as I read of Mabel’s sometimes quite unexpected and funny escapes. It was also extremely informative as Macdonald constantly refers to many famous periodical nature books, such as T.H. White’s The Goshawk in order to compare and contrast the techniques used by traditional and modern falconers. Additionally, the book gives clear explanations of falconers language, for example when a bird of prey ‘mantles’, they are shielding their prey and therefore drop their wings in order to protect their food.
Mcdonald’s book also leaves questions regarding the modern world and it’s attitude to food. She describes how she would train her hawk to hunt for rabbits off the land, and argues that in some cases, it is better to have caught and killed your food yourself so that you know exactly where it has come from, and Mcdonald writes of the excitement (and dangers) she remembers when watching a goshawk hunt.
Overall, I feel this book is not just the tale of one woman’s way of overcoming grief, but a series of messages to people who are also suffering from the death of a loved one. Mcdonald writes of how these times may come with phases of complete depression and loneliness, but sometimes it is comforting to be alone with nature in order to feel some kind of relief.
I give it 5 out of 5.
Joanna Shaw is a second year English and Film Student and loves nothing more than a good book. Follow her on twitter @booklifereads