H IS FOR HAWK
Publisher: UK Cape, US Grove Atlantic
UK & Commonwealth - Jonathan Cape Ltd
Italy - Giulio Einaudi Editore SpA
United States ex Canada - Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
About the book:
H IS FOR HAWK is the story of how a woman tamed and trained a wild hawk. The hawk was a goshawk, Britain's wildest, most lethal bird of prey. The woman was me.
Five months before the hawk arrived my father had died, suddenly, unexpectedly, on a London street. My world blew away. I started dreaming of hawks: goshawks, the most bloodthirsty and highly-strung of British birds of prey. I'd trained hawks before, but never a goshawk. I'd never wanted to. I'd seen nothing of myself reflected in their solitudinous, murderous eyes. Not for me, I'd thought, many times. Nothing like me. But the world had changed, and so had I. The hawk was inevitable. I wrote to a hawk breeder in Ireland and bought a 10-week old female goshawk. I didn't want to be desperate and wild. I didn't want to be angry. But I was. Unconsciously I wanted the hawk to be those things for me. Hawks don't grieve. Hawks don't hurt. Hawks hunt. Hawks kill. So it was that one damp early morning on a Scottish quayside a man opened a cardboard box in front of me and brought out a flapping, terrifying bird with curved black talons and lambent silver eyes. I called her Mabel, and brought her back to Cambridge to start our new life.
H IS FOR HAWK is partly a diary of training a large and powerful bird of prey, and partly the record of a spiritual journey - an unflinchingly honest account of my own struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk's taming, and my own untaming. It is the story of a journey into wildness with a creature that almost brought disaster, but was also my salvation. The book is also a meditation on the place that hawks have had in the human imagination for millennia, the place of nature in the modern world, and the strange story of another falconer, goshawk-keeper and writer, the novelist T.H. White, best known for his series of Arthurian books The Once and Future King. White wrote an extraordinary account of his goshawk experiences in the 1930s, and H IS FOR HAWK carries out a conversation with this near-mad book. Throughout, H IS FOR HAWK reflects on a wealth of themes - on home and flying from it, on killing things and English fascism, on what can be tamed and what cannot. It interweaves the excitement and fascination of my days with the hawk with myriad connected stories: memories of my father, my own childhood, the meanings of nature and nation, the past of place and the place of the past in the English landscape, the lure of violence, extinction and migration, the morality of keeping animals, and ultimately, how it might be possible to try and reconcile death with life and love. At the centre of it all is always the hawk: unpredictable, beautiful, lethal and strange, as magnetic and extraordinary a beast for the reader as she is for the falconer.
Lyrical, thought-provoking, rich with incident and reflection, in turns heartbreaking and hilarious, H IS FOR HAWK is the first work of literary non-fiction by the acclaimed poet, writer, historian and illustrator Helen Macdonald.
‘It just sings. I couldn’t stop reading.’
'This beautiful book is at once heartfelt and clever in the way it mixes elegy with celebration: elegy for a father lost, celebration of a hawk found - and in the finding also a celebration of countryside, forbears of one kind and another, life-in-death. At a time of very distinguished writing about the relationship between human kind and the environment, it is immediately pre-eminent.'
Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate
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