Helen Macdonald | Nonfiction
What a surprise! I thought H is for Hawk was a novel. I don’t know what my brain was thinking … that it was a posthumous replacement of H is for Homicide by Sue Grafton? It was a shock to discover this is nonfiction, and it really IS about training a hawk, a goshawk. I would never have picked this book off the library shelf if I knew these salient points. What I DID know is numerous people recommended it to me. And so I read it.
And I loved it. Helen Macdonald is a superb writer, I believe, to write about a hawk – a topic I had NO interest in – with such sensitivity, insight, suspense, humor, vulnerability, awareness, and knowledge! At one point she spends an entire page explaining different hawk hoods. Seriously? Whatever she didn’t know already, she researched very well.
This tale of her training her goshawk parallels T.H. White’s 1951 nonfiction book, The Goshawk. A constant theme is to compare and contrast what White is doing with his goshawk, with Helen’s decisions in modern-day England about her own. Yes, that is the same T.H. White who wrote The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone.
Helen’s father dies early in the book, and I realize that my friends recommended H is for Hawk because of how Macdonald interweaves her grief into the tale of her goshawk. Every 20 or 30 pages she talks about what is occurring with her grief, the memorial service, being with her mom, etc., and observes what she is learning and what parallels there are. It is a very non-sappy approach to grief, and I think one readers can understand readily. I am most profoundly impacted by a quote she shares from poet Marianne Moore: “The cure for loneliness is solitude.” Makes me think.
Yes, read it. Perhaps it will surprise you as it did me. Perhaps you will learn something about yourself, as I did. Perhaps you will decide to train a goshawk