H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Named as one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 by The New York Times Book Review. After Macdonald’s dad passes away she decides to put all the sadness from her grief into training a Goshawk.

Everything about the hawk is tuned and turned to hunt and kill. Yesterday I discovered that when I suck air through my teeth and make a squeaking noise like an injured rabbit, all the tendons in her toes instantaneously contract, driving her talons into the glove with terrible, crushing force. This killing grip is an old, deep pattern in her brain, an innate response that hasn’t yet found the stimulus meant to release it. Because other sounds provoke it: door hinges, squealing brakes, bicycles with unoiled wheels – and on the second afternoon, Joan Sutherland singing aria on the radio.

Macdonald is methodical in explaining her experiences of training a hawk and how it gets her through the death of her beloved father. She weaves in stories of her childhood, the lessons her dad taught her, the difficult yet freeing task of training her goshawk Mabel, the history of hawking, and the story of a man named White. I was very impressed with the descriptions of life around her. I don’t believe many people can translate those things from their memory into writing as well as she does. There are a lot of parallels between the author and White. I think she is drawn to him because he also trained a hawk and wrote about the experiences as an escape from the difficulties in his life.

The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simple memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.

I enjoyed the book for the most part but it did take me longer to get through than I expected. At times it felt like too many ideas for one book. It also takes time to enjoy her words because she is very descriptive: sometimes I would need to re-read sentences to really soak up her writing. I suggest having a dictionary or a dictionary app to look up some of the words she uses. You can see the words I learned on my vocabulary list https://bookitbabe.com/words/.

Oh, Edmund Burt, I think. I wish it was still the seventeenth century. There’d have been fewer things out there to frighten my hawk. But I knew that wasn’t true. There’d have been carts and horses and crowds and dogs and they’d have been just as frightening for a half-mannered goshawk as buses and mopeds and students on bikes. The difference was that in 1615 no one would have paid me the slightest attention. Hawks on the streets of Cambridge would have been as unremarkable a sight as dogs on leads today.

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