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H Is for Hawk ()

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. Indeed, I wondered, initially, if my poor reaction to much of it was just a function of some natural misogyny. You see, the genesis for Ms MacDonald's decision to return to her youthful pursuit of falconry was the death of her beloved father. While one certainly commiserates with her loss, her grief is so extravagant as to be off-putting. After all, it did not occur until he had lived a full life and she was an adult. It was naturally sad, but hardly tragic. The depth of her depression, therefore, comes across as self-indulgence. And, any inclination I felt that I was being heartless was removed by talking to a number of women who felt the same way.

It is a shame, because much of the book is fascinating and I suspect no one will read it without being driven to seek out other books by authors she discusses. Much of the book is devoted to an examination of T.H. White, best known for The Sword and the Stone, part of his Arthurian epic, The Once and Future King. Less known these days for his own eponymous book about training a goshawk. One hardly knows how much personal insight to attribute this too, but Ms MacDonald describes the pathologies--sado-masochistic homosexuality--that drove White and led to a relationship with his bird(s) that was more mutual torture than training. Likewise, she introduces Gavin Maxwell to the narrative--Ring of Bright Water--only to reveal how unhealthy his famous relationship with his otters was, it too driven by a dysfunctional sexuality. That her own interactions with the goshawk she adopts become equally obsessive and psychologically unbalanced ends up making falconry itself seem like a pursuit of the unbalanced, rather than a healthy wedding on man and beast as she presumably wishes it to be seen. The reader can't help but feel that she, like her other subjects, is fundamentally abusing the bird for her own purposes rather than meeting it on some mutually beneficial terms. The whole thing, while often interesting, makes for uncomfortable reading.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Helen MacDonald Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Helen MacDonald
    -ESSAY: What do magpies want?: I am left feeling unnerved by the sudden presence of a bird wreathed in superstition and legend at my kitchen window. (HELEN MACDONALD, 12/10/20, New Statesman)
    -VIDEO: Helen Macdonald: H is for Hawk (Chicago Humanities Festival, May 11, 2016)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Helen MacDonald, "H is For Hawk" (Politics and Prose, Mar 24, 2016)
    -ESSAY: Helen Macdonald: 'Am I refusing to read Bleak House out of sheer contrariness? Possibly' (Helen Macdonald, 13 Nov 2020The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Spies in the sky: Helen Macdonald on how birds reflect our national anxieties: Nazi skylarks, bird-watching spies, murmurations on the radar … the H is For Hawk author explains how our fear and fascination with birds reflect wider anxieties about nationhood, migration and invasion (Helen Macdonald, 12 May 2015, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Helen Macdonald: ?the unsettling encounter that inspired H is for Hawk: Ten years ago, a confusing encounter changed Helen Macdonald’s understanding of the connection between humans and the natural world (Helen Macdonald, 19 August 2016, The Guardian)
    -EXCERPT: from H is for Hawk
    -ESSAY: Broken wings: Helen Macdonald on her father's death, and how training a goshawk helped her to find her way home : 'The sudden death of a loved one brings a singular kind of pain. You’ve had no time to say goodbye, have built no armour to prepare yourself' (Helen Macdonald Sunday 3 August 2014, Independent)
    -ESSAY: Helen Macdonald: The Things I Tell Myself When I’m Writing About Nature (Helen Macdonald, August 25, 2020, LitHub)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Where the wild things were: Reintroducing wolves, boar and other lost wildlife to Britain is about enriching human lives as well as preserving nature. (Helen Macdonald, 3/06/24, New Statesman)
-ESSAY: My house of sky: the enduring cult of JA Baker’s The Peregrine: Since its publication in 1967, The Peregrine has been celebrated as the “gold standard” of nature writing, counting Werner Herzog amongst its devoted fans. (HELEN MACDONALD, 4/28/18, New Statesman)
    -INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald wishes she’d never read On the Road (Book Marks, August 26, 2020)
-AUDIO: Helen Macdonald, writer and naturalist (BBC: Desert Island Discs, 12/10/21)
    -PROFILE: What’s next for Helen Macdonald, author of ‘H is for Hawk’ (Sadie Dingfelder March 17, 2016 , Washington Post)
    -PROFILE: Helen Macdonald: a bird’s eye view of love and loss: Helen Macdonald’s obsession with falconry got her bullied at school. It has also just won her the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. She talks about grief, Wordsworth – and training hawks with Bedouins in Abu Dhabi (Stephen Moss, 11/05/14, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: Helen Macdonald on hawks, nature and the world (CONNIE OGLE, 3/09/16,
-INTERVIEW: How Training a Wild Hawk Healed One Woman's Broken Heart: One of the things grief does is shatter the narrative of your life, says author. (Simon Worrall, MARCH 8, 2015, National Geographic)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald: “H is for Hawk” (Diane Rehm, Mar 09 2015, NPR)
    -INTERVIEW: In Conversation With Helen Macdonald: The author of H Is for Hawk discusses the craft of nature writing during a hike through the California redwoods (JASON MARK, JUN 8 2016, Sierra)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald: H Is for Hawk: Helen Macdonald's new book is her account of working through her grief over her father's death by adopting and training a goshawk. (All Things Considered, , 4/21/16)
    -INTERVIEW: The Great Natural Drama, an interview with Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk (Steve Paulson, 4/15/15, Public Radio International’s To the Best of Our Knowledge
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald on Britain's fiercest birds of prey (Conversations with Richard Fidler, 20 May 2015, ABC)
    -INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald: In Full Flight: The writer and naturalist on the temporality of grief, inhabiting the voice of T.H. White, and developing radical empathy with a goshawk. (Aditi Sriram, 7/15/15, Guernica)
    -INTERVIEW: Of grieving and goshawks: An interview with H is for Hawk’s Helen Macdonald (Reid Echols, 3/25/165, Cultural Compass)
    -INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald’s ‘H Is for Hawk’ Soars (MICHELLE DROWN, 3/29/16, Santa Barbara Independent)
    -INTERVIEW: Helen MacDonald (James Naughtie, 10/06/16, BBC)
    -INTERVIEW: “You can’t tame grief”: Helen Macdonald on her bestselling memoir “H Is for Hawk”: Macdonald's new book is climbing the New York Times bestselling hardcover nonfiction list (NICK WILLOUGHBY, 3/09/15, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: What I Was Flying Toward: An Interview with Helen Macdonald (Christine Fischer Guy interviews Helen Macdonald, APRIL 29, 2015, LA Review of Books)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald on grief, dreams and birds of prey (Eleanor Wachtel, May 21, 2017, CBC)
    -INTERVIEW: HELEN MACDONALD: H IS FOR HAWK (2015) (Chaired by Noelle McCarthy, Auckland Writers Festival)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald, author "H Is For Hawk" (From Santa Fe, 04/23/16, PBS)
    -INTERVIEW: Helen Macdonald on Writing Her Costa Book Award–Winning Memoir, H is for Hawk (KATE GUADAGNINO, 1/30/15, Vogue)
-REVIEW: of H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald (Dwight Garner, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Christian House, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: A Falconer Reviews Helen Macdonald’s Acclaimed Bestseller, H Is For Hawk (Tim Gallagher, editor of Living Bird magazine)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Stephen J. Bodio, Living Bird)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Rachel Cooke, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Mark Cocker, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Vicki Constantine Croke, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Katy Waldman, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Don Noble, Alabama Public Radio)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (JOHN HAYES, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Jason Morgan, University Bookman)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Ben Eagle, thinking Country)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (Joanna Scutts, Lit Hub)
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (
    -REVIEW: of H is for Hawk (
    -REVIEW: of Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald (Daniel Lefferts, the Millions)
    -REVIEW: of Vesper Flights (Michael Schaub, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Vesper Flights (Andrew Fuhrmann, Australian Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Vesper Flights (Tom Latham, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Vesper Flights (Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Vesper Flights (Tom Jokinen, Literary Review of Canada)
    -REVIEW: of Prophet by Helen Macdonald and Sin Blaché (Adam Roberts, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Prophet (Tim Adams, The Guardian)
-VIDEO: The Goshawk

Book-related and General Links:
-INTERVIEW: Raptor rapture: A Q&A with Jonathan Meiburg: A raptor in the Falkland Islands, the striated caracara, was a mystery to Charles Darwin. Jonathan Meiburg talks about solving the puzzle. (Michael S. Hopkins, 4/06/21, CS Monitor)
-ESSAY: The Life and Times of “The Most Intelligent Bird in the World”: Jonathan Meiburg on the Remarkable Mental and Physical Dexterity of Tina the Striated Caracara (Jonathan Meiburg, March 30, 2021, Lit Hub)
    -ESSAY: Hawks: nature’s feathered killing machines: Is it not thrilling to know that the psychopaths of the natural world fly above us, but never spare us a thought? (Cal Flyn, November 4, 2021, Prospect)