How to tame a wild hawk

Editor Suzy Greaves read H is For Hawk for the Psychologies Book Club in 2014 - it's now been named Costa Book of the Year 2014. Read out review here


How to tame a wild hawk

Despite H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Jonathan Cape, £14.99) being lauded as ‘nature writing extraordinaire’, I wasn’t eager to read it.

Macdonald’s memoir is about dealing with the sudden death of her father by training a goshawk. As an animal lover who was traumatised watching Ken Loach’s classic film Kes (about a young boy’s relationship with a wild kestrel), and as someone who has grieved over a recent loss in my family, I didn’t want to put myself through it.

But I was drawn to it. Although this book is about grief, it’s more a poignant observation of a woman who tries to befriend death and loss, with her goshawk embodying that process.

From our first glimpse of the ‘reptile… a fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary,’ we are brought into close contact with an untameable savageness that repels.

However, Macdonald embraces it. ‘The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief and numb to the hurts of human life,’ she writes. TH White’s 1951 memoir The Goshawk is what started Macdonald’s passion, when she was eight. He comes with us on the journey as she references his book, and how he lived with his closet homosexuality. ‘My reasons weren’t White’s,’ says Macdonald, ‘but I was running all the same.’

To me, this book is not about running away but rather towards our darkest feelings, accepting and finally, letting go. I’m glad I found the courage to read it.

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