On my blog I have whinged a few times about how critical acclaim for a book rarely guarantees my own enjoyment of it. However, in the case of Helen MacDonald’s ‘H is for Hawk’, I get it. Dear Mr Critic; I totally get it. This book was a presence in my life for the two days it took me to read it and even afterwards it has left a resonance.
When Helen’s father, a journalist and photographer, dies suddenly and unexpectedly, she is plunged into grief. Her misery isolates her; she retreats into herself and in to the training of a goshawk, Mabel. This training requires total dedication and throughout the memoir, the author references a book by another author who undertook to train a goshawk, EH White. Helen finally acknowledges that she is suffering from depression and she seeks help; as Mabel takes flight and struggles to assert some independence from her astringer, so Helen’s spirits slowly begin to rise.
Reading this book seemed to me rather like eating a very rich, dense chocolate mousse. There aren’t many bubbles of light relief and every now and again I had to stop and digest what I’d read, before delving in again. The language of this autobiography is rich, vibrant and intelligent. MacDonald has the ability to bring nature to life as she describes Mabel in intricate detail and transports the reader to the Cambridgeshire countryside. I know that ‘H is for Hawk’ won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this beautiful book has left an indelible impression upon me.