Book Review H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

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H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, is a difficult but thoughtful book.  

In essence it is a book about grief, after Helen loses her father unexpectedly, she spirals into grief which developed into an obsession with re-igniting her childhood hobby of falconry (which she used to do with her father).  She gets the idea to train a goshawk - apparently the hardest type to train - and it all gets a bit out of hand from there.  This becomes her obsession and her journey through grief is interlinked with her training journey.  

Human's connections with the wilderness, the savagery of human nature and the wild, is a main theme within the book.  The sections dedicated to showing Mabel's wild side, her instinct to hunt and kill, and how drawn Helen is to that are interesting and compelling.  

I also enjoyed the development of the relationship between our narrator and Mabel, her goshawk.  It is written almost as a love story, going through a courtship phase before building trust.  

The tangents into history, anecdotes and TH White are the more difficult sections of the book to get through.  Some are lighthearted and add to the story, most slow it down and are a slog to get through.  As a whole they were more like an academic discussion to show the author's critical analysis and education rather than add anything to the memoir.  The majority could have and should have been edited out.  

Another difficulty is that at times the narrator is so painfully middle class it is hard to look beyond it and get back to the story.  Her position of privilege (a Cambridge professor who had falconry as a hobby from a young age and who seemed to have the means to almost completely lose her job with no real consequences) is never addressed or even mentioned.  As a memoir it is obviously personal and insular looking, but to not even acknowledge it seemed amiss. 

Overall, when I finished the book I was relieved - it was a lengthy and personal exploration and expression of grief but not one I want to revisit any time soon.