H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

I read few non-fiction books (outside of work), so when I do read one, it has to be pretty special. This is a pretty special book. It is many things — a memoir about the author’s relationship with her goshawk, a history of falconry, a book about grief and bereavement, and a partial biography of the author, T.H. White.

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with raptors. I wanted to get close to them and watch their every move, so — despite being a vegetarian, and very opposed to blood sports of all kinds — I ended up taking a short course on falconry. I’m not sure that the people running the course knew what to make of me, but at the time I loved it.

‘H is for Hawk’ brought that obsessive focus rushing back. Macdonald describes so precisely the way that you end up feeling half-hawk, noting every slight tightening of the bird’s feet, the tiny fluffing out of facial feathers, the rousing’ that signals that they are ready to go. It reminded me too of the way that your perception seems to sharpen and expand to include some of the hawk’s perceptual world. Then there were the archaic falconry terms that I had half-forgotten: coping, feaking, creance and so on.

Her nature writing is superb: vivid and full of wonder, but resolutely unsentimental. She also writes beautifully about grief (if that doesn’t sound like a contradiction), and about her relationship with her father. It’s a beautiful book all round, but a harrowing one in places. I loved it, but I’m not sure what someone who hadn’t been obsessed with raptors would make of it.

books nonfiction nature

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