H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Book Review by Galen O'Hanlon | 04 Sep 2014
  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Book title: H is for Hawk
Author: Helen Macdonald

Already hailed as a classic of the genre, H is for Hawk is a rich blend of memoir, biography and natural history. Broken by the grief of her father’s death, Helen becomes obsessed with fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a falconer. As a child she reads everything about falconry, including T.H. White’s The Goshawk, in which he struggles and mostly fails to train the bird. Despite the trauma and cruelty of White's experience, she buys a goshawk and retreats inside the intense relationship of taming such a wild and ferocious thing.

‘It is not a biography of Terence Hanbury White,’ writes Helen, ‘but White is part of my story all the same. I have to write about him because he was there.’ As Helen develops a deeper relationship with the hawk, so her connection to White deepens, too. The book is thick with White’s life, as well as Helen’s, the two struggles connected by the hawk, by their enchantment with the trickiest of birds of prey to tame. The prose is energetic, fast-moving, and dappled with metaphors drawn from the natural world. For the most part this style is fresh and surprising, but at times it can feel a little overwritten. Helen’s skill, however, is to cover so much beneath the camouflage of ‘nature writing’ – with perceptive, far-reaching and rather beautiful results. [Galen O'Hanlon]

Out now, published by Vintage, RRP £8.99