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H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Published May 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

What did I think?:

Recently, I’m getting more and more interested in non fiction, although I have to remind myself to “get reading” it, I have far too many fiction books begging to be read on my shelves. I was aware of H is For Hawk when it first came out and then it won the Costa Award for Best Biography in 2014 so I was even more intrigued to read it. I remember going into bookshops multiple times, seeing it there, picking it up and then putting it back down again. After all, how interesting can a book about training a hawk really be? Then my boyfriend listened to it on audiobook and raved about how wonderful it was. That was it, determined. I HAD to pick it up and read it soon. Well, I finally got round to it recently and oh my goodness, why on earth did I wait that long?! This was a wonderful, touching and fascinating read that gave me a little fuzzy feeling inside and an instant admiration and respect for the author, Helen Macdonald.

The author of H is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald with her goshawk. I love this picture!

Yes, H is For Hawk IS about how Helen learns to train a goshawk with very little previous experience but this book is also about so much more. She originally gets her first goshawk, Mabel after the sudden death of her beloved father and whilst she is struggling with her grief, she finally realises one of her biggest dreams since she was a little girl, becoming a falconer. When she was younger, Helen loved to read the author T.H. White’s non fiction book entitled The Goshawk which described his own experiences as a novice training a bird of prey. She decides to re-visit that book as an adult whilst training Mabel and basking in the memories of her father and the reader is treated to parts of T.H. White’s own story as he battled with both a cranky, independent goshawk and the truth of his own sexuality which he was desperate to hide.

The goshawk (not Mabel, just a random one!) but an absolutely beautiful bird of prey, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I adored reading Helen’s story, from the minute she bought Mabel to the early days of training and the struggles with an incredibly fiesty, stubborn creature. Then there were both heart-breaking and heart-warming passages as Helen’s grief for her father threatens to overwhelm her, leading her to neglect her mental health, shut herself off from friends and social events and make her worry that she’ll never be able to connect with her strange new animal companion. Then there are the triumphs which quite honestly, brought a tear to my eye. I’m a huge animal lover anyway but there was a particular scene in H is For Hawk that really choked me up. Helen has been told that goshawk’s don’t really “play,” but one evening, Helen decides to throw a paper ball at Mabel and the goshawk begins to join in, tossing and crunching the ball and moving her head to stare at Helen through a paper tube, extremely happy and content. This was a huge breakthrough for both Helen and Mabel and it was a passage I had to read over and over again, it was too adorable for words and I loved seeing both Mabel’s personality coming out and Helen’s happiness in the goshawk’s reaction.

This is a far more emotional read than I was anticipating and really demonstrates the nature of grief, which rolls around like waves and may severely affect you some days more than others. I want to thank Helen from the bottom of my heart for being so honest about her suffering and am certain it will help other people going through the same thing, in that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the potential to be happy again. I’m also delighted to have found Mabel, such a huge character and beautiful creature that I’ll find difficult to forget, that’s for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Published August 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The White Doe all about?:

The White Doe is the story of Fran who has recently lost her mother and has been seeing a rare white doe in the countryside near to her home.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Rosy Thornton for sending me a copy of her first short story collection, Sandlands in exchange for an honest review. On reading the synopsis, which promises magic entwined with the beauty of nature I was certainly sold and thought it would be a great addition to my Short Stories Challenge. The first story is The White Doe and even though my expectations were slightly raised (due to the promise of animals I have to say, I’m a sucker for anything involving them!) I wasn’t disappointed. It was written beautifully and the surrounding environment of Suffolk was incorporated so expertly that the narrative just seemed to flow like water.

Our main character in the story is Fran who lost her mother whom she was incredibly close to, six months ago. She hasn’t really had a good opportunity to grieve for her loss and finds looking through any of her mother’s belongings terribly difficult so is pushing it to one side for now. It is obvious her mother is continually present in her thoughts – she mentions her constantly in the story and it is obvious her feelings about her death are still very raw. Recently however, she has been seeing a white doe amongst a group of other deer and wondering what it can possibly mean.

Fran is aware of an old folk tale about a white doe (who was actually a woman that transformed into the animal) and how it ended very badly when her brother mistakenly killed her whilst out hunting, believing her to be in fact a doe and not his sister. This story is also connected with the horrific migraines that Fran has been suffering. She has always had a bit of a predisposition for headaches that were normally soothed for her as a child by her mother but since her mother’s death they appear to be getting worse. The visitation of the deer, Fran’s memories of her mother and her migraines are all connected and all assist Fran in confronting her grief when the time is right.

I actually read this story two times so that I could fully appreciate it. The descriptive nature of Rosy Thornton’s writing is as magical as the folk tale/legends that she recounts in the narrative and whilst reading, I felt like I was immersed in another world that I didn’t want to leave. Being British, I also loved the connection to the Suffolk countryside and as an animal nut, the references to the deer in their appearance and their behaviour. This isn’t a story just about a special deer however, it’s got so many different levels, namely regarding grief and how it is experienced and effectively managed and the importance of motherhood. Personally, I thought it was a stunning short story and am eagerly anticipating the rest of the collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Light Through The Window by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.