Book No 10 (2015) : H is for Hawk

H for hawkOn 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.

Book No 38 (2014) : Last Days of the Bus Club

bus clubI tell you, if you have yet to discover Chris Stewart, you are in for a treat! ‘Last Days of the Bus Club‘ is the latest in the series of auto-biographical works which began with ‘Driving Over Lemons‘.

Chris, together with his wife, Ana, upped sticks and moved to Las Alpujarras in Southern Spain. The first book tells the tale of their early years in ‘El Valero’, a remote farm. Surrounded by orange and lemon trees, sheep and peasants, the couple begin to carve out a life for themselves. A life, it turns out, full of major and minor disasters, colourful characters and endless optimism. 3 books later and by the time of ‘Last Days of the Bus Club‘, Chris and Ana’s daughter, Chloe, is leaving home for University in Granada, opening up a new phase of life for her and her parents.  The Stewarts make their living at Casa Ana from organic oranges, farming and writing, plus various diverse activities such as hosting walking tours and cookery classes.

Now I don’t think that Chris Stewart’s life is any funnier than mine. It’s just that he spins a great yarn; he would make a fabulous dinner-party guest! His descriptions of the characters he encounters, landscape, journeys, wildlife, conversations are filled with rich and endearing details which bring everything sharply into focus. On top of which, Chris’ writing is hilarious. Well, to me it is. I understand that humour is subjective but I defy anyone not to laugh out loud as he recounts time spent on a building site with a load of uncouth louts, of trying to find a 4B pencil in Granada and of the visit from the Critchley Road kids. The author is not laughing at other people, though – his humour is self-deprecating, poking fun at his own shortcomings. If you are not sure whether you are tempted enough by my review to buy a book, I suggest you check out Chris’ own blog, as it gives you the idea of the way he writes.

The book also has photos – mostly of sheep and oranges, but they break up the text nicely!

I note that there is an audio version of the books and I honestly cannot think of a better source of entertainment for a journey, particularly if the destination happened to be Spain!