A beautifully written memoir about Macdonald training a goshawk after the sudden death of her beloved father, partly but not entirely as a distraction from her grief. The goshawk was not her first bird of prey; as a little girl she was obsessed with T. H. White’s (The Once and Future King) odd memoir The Goshawk, in which he tries to train a goshawk and does everything wrong. She becomes a falconer as a result, determined to do better. Not that that would be hard. White was a lot better a writing than falconry.

White and his book figure prominently in Macdonald’s book, as they were much on her mind as she trained her own goshawk. I thought this was well-integrated and interesting, but I’d already read The Goshawk, The Once and Future King is one of my two favorite King Arthur books and the first part, The Sword in the Stone, was a formative book of my childhood, and my favorite scene in it was the one where the young Arthur is transformed into a hawk – a merlin – by Merlyn. I’m not sure how it would come across to someone without any previous knowledge of or interest in White. On the other hand, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in memoirs, interactions with the natural world, nature writing, or grief regardless of their interest in falconry, so maybe that doesn’t matter.

The Goshawk is much more about White himself than it is about his hawk; H is for Hawk is also more about Macdonald than about her hawk, but she's more interested in her goshawk as an animal of a particular type, with its own personality, than White is. While his goshawk does come through as a personality, to White it's more a representation of ideas. He's trying to engage in an epic spiritual struggle, with the hawk variously as an opponent to be defeated, a object of desire to be seduced, etc. It's not really surprising that it didn't end well. He's using the training of his hawk as a way to go further inward, into himself. Macdonald is using it to go outward, away from herself (though she ends up facing herself whether she wants to or not), and that plus her pre-existing knowledge and experience means that her relationship with her bird is much less adversarial and more kind.

No harm comes to Macdonald’s goshawk, but she describes how White harmed his out of ignorance of how to train a falcon. He didn’t hit it or anything like that, but his training methods were damaging and may have led to its death – it escapes him, but probably did not survive long in the wild. Also, obviously the book contains hunting.

H Is for Hawk

The Goshawk: With a new foreword by Helen Macdonald

The Once and Future King by T. H. White
skygiants: Duck from Princess Tutu sticking her head out a window to look at Rue (no one is alone)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

I love the part where she's like 'I FIGURED OUT HOW TO PLAY WITH MY BIRD!' and everyone else is like '??? goshawks don't have a sense of play?' but it turns out in fact that they do

....I mean I love many other parts but that was a bit that struck me as surprisingly joyous, although bittersweet as most things in this book.
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)

From: [personal profile] cofax7

I LOVED this book. I thought it was gorgeously written, just a stunning examination of grief and the need for wildness in life.

It was also a very good audiobook.
yatima: (Default)

From: [personal profile] yatima

Despite the fact that I adore The Goshawk and everything about T H White, and that I've had two falconry lessons, and this book is sitting on my shelf, I haven't read it yet. You may have just given me the nudge I needed.

It's always a joy to see your name pop up in my feed, no matter what.
yatima: (Default)

From: [personal profile] yatima

Awe-inspiring. Unforgettable.

We went to West Coast Falconry and did the Hawk Walk with Diego, a Harris's Hawk. Most birds used in falconry are, like White's goshawk, insane solitary hunters stressed by the presence of humans. Harris's Hawks are highly social pack hunters who, like dogs and horses, generously welcome humans into their gestalt.

Once we'd been trained, we walked up that hill in a group. Each person would stick out a gauntlet as they walked, and Diego would fly up behind them and land on it. When his talons settled on my fist, I felt complete.

It was a peak experience.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra

I did enjoy this and, like you, love The sword in the Stone (actually, one of my relatively few book buying regrets is not buying the only copy I've seen of one of the individual books that White rewrote to get The Once and Future King, The Witch in the Wood). A friend who is unfamiliar with White liked H is for Hawk but said she didn't see why he had to be in so much of it,,,

From: [identity profile] ejmam.livejournal.com

As a data point, I liked this book but wasn't stunned by it (as some of my friends were). I read The Once and Future King and had The Sword in the Stone on my favorite's shelf as a kid, but I never tried The Goshawk or any of White's non-famous stuff. I enjoyed encountering White's falconry experience second-hand through MacDonald, but still don't feel the need to see it in the original.

From: [identity profile] jorrie-spencer.livejournal.com

I am utterly unfamiliar with T.H. White but mean to try this book. I have an elderly father, who I'm close to, so it might cut close to the bone, but I love the idea of it. And beautifully written always appeals.

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