Review of ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald. The Book Club Choice for June.

Helen Macdonald with her HawkHelen Macdonald with her goshawk Mabel.

Photo courtesy of The New Yorker Magazine.

H is for Hawk is a memoir written by Helen Macdonald, a third year research fellow at Cambridge University. Her father dies suddenly of a heart attack. She was very close to her father and she used to go on outings with him, when he worked as a professional photographer.  Helen Macdonald had been interested in falconry from childhood, and by this point in her life she is a very experienced falconer. She has read (and written one) numerous books on the subject. Following her father’s death, she buys a goshawk for £800 and sets about trying to tame her.
This book is about her training the goshawk, who she calls Mabel, and coming to terms with the loss of her father. But in my opinion it is so much more than that.

I was attracted to this book by some deep instinct. Every time I went into the book shop I kept looking at the cover and I didn’t know why. When I picked it up, it sounded like the last book I would be interested in reading, and yet, it kept calling to me. So I made it the book club choice and here we are.
Well my instincts were right. For me personally, it was not an easy book to read, but from the start I found it riveting, mesmerizing and fascinating. I don’t think I have ever read such beautiful and raw descriptions of nature anywhere before. I found the writing almost hypnotic. I would stay awake reading it till two in the morning, which if you know me, never ever happens. In saying that, as I previously mentioned, I didn’t find it an easy read and at times it was actually difficult to read, but no less enjoyable for that. So what made is so captivating?

The language is complex, original and describes the countryside around England in a way that I have never heard before. Macdonald knows every tree, every hedge and every flower she passes. Nothing escapes her eye when she is out in nature. Her descriptions astounded me.

She describes the depths of her feelings with a refreshing bluntness and honesty that I loved. Her grief for her father is so palpable, and having gone through losing my own father, there were several parts of the book where I broke down and cried with empathy and understanding.
For example, on page 150, she writes:
‘On the way home, I felt a great and simple sadness, I missed my dad. I missed him very much.’
Well that was all I needed to read to set me off, and it fitted perfectly in context, as did every word in this book, in my opinion.

There is a parallel strand to the narrative as the author describes a book she is reading by a man called T. H. White who also trained a Hawk back in the 1930s. As the author trains her own goshawk she relives the life of White and his difficulties and obsession with his own hawk. Although I wasn’t as interested in this part of the book, it works, as she comes to understand her own complexities through his experiences and draws solace from his failures and successes.
I grew fascinated by the goshawk’s actions and training. I had absolutely no idea about hawks at the start of this memoir and the descriptions of Mabel killing her prey I found very hard to stomach. It was the only part of the book I didn’t like so much, but it was still described superbly.

Sometimes you come across a book that’s a bit of a challenge. In day’s past I wouldn’t have persevered, I would have just put it down. I didn’t have to persevere at all with this book, I loved it, but I can see how some might. I would beg you to stick with it though, if only for the incredible talent the author has for language. It is simply sublime. This book will take pride of place on my bookshelf and I have no doubt it is a book I will re-read in a couple of years.

Promoting our Book.

At the beginning of 2013 I set out on a journey of discovery.  A discovery of the story of my father’s life.  I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know.  I was wrong.  Over the course of the next six months, every few weekends we would sit down together and he would tell me about his life and I would listen.  I then put together, over time, what became our book entitled:

Conversations with my Father: Jack Kyle.

I know I am obviously biased, but there is no denying that he was an exceptional man.  I still want to say ‘is’.  Sadly he died last November and I am still grieving.  I miss him so much it feels like I’ve got a cage around my heart and it is being squeezed tight.

I am so blessed that I got to spend so much quality time talking to him and listening to his fascinating stories.   If you know nothing about him, in brief, he played rugby for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions in the 1940s and 50s.  He travelled a huge amount, ending up working in Zambia as a surgeon for over 34 years.  He was an exceptionally talented sportsman, a humanitarian who cared so much about people, and to boot he was funny, kind, warm and wise.   This book is a tribute to a man who lived in a bygone era when men were gentlemen and sport was not all about money.   There’s something for everyone in this book even a bit of poetry.   Check it out at this link:  Conversations with My Father.

And The Winner is….

Thank you to those of you who have voted.  The winner of the People’s choice for the July book club is….drum roll please:

‘The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin.

From what I have already heard this is an excellent choice.  I have put a brief summary and link to the book on Amazon under The Monthly Book Club page, so please go there for further details.

In other news I am hoping to add a lot more content to the site over the coming weeks and to recruit some more followers.  If you know of any book lovers, I would be most grateful if you would tell them about the site and encourage them to share their thoughts.

I will be attending The West Cork Literary Festival in July and will let you all know how I get on there, as well as more book reviews and recommendations.  I am desperately trying to find a bit more time to read, so if any of you have any tips for stealing some reading time, perhaps you could share your thoughts.  Do you read in chunks of time?  Or do you read every night, or perhaps you travel by public transport and you have time to read then?  How much do you read?  I am struggling to read more than one book a month at present, which really isn’t enough.  I know I could read more.  I am torn between time I want to use for reading and the time I use to write.  Anyway, it’s all good!   Oh, and if you haven’t finished reading (or started) ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald, which was June’s book club choice, you still have plenty of time.  I won’t be putting up my review until the last week of June.   If you have read it feel free to share your thoughts anytime.   That’s all for now.  Happy Reading!

Book Club Choice for July. The People’s Choice.

I hope you are all enjoying the book club choice for June which is ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen MacDonald.    I am finding it mesmerizing and engrossing.  I am nearly finished.  As it was a rather unusual choice, I thought I would put July’s book choice out to the people by way of a democratic vote.   I am going to put up three choices of very different books and the one with the most votes will be July’s book club choice.  That’s how we do it in the other book club I attend, and I must say I think it is very fair!   So, here goes:

1.  The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

“It starts with a murder, is obsessed with ancient Greece and creates the delicious illusion of being admitted to the most dangerous of confidences.”  The Guardian.

2.  The Lives of Women by Christine Dwyer Hickey. ”  A streetwise tale of sex and scandal in Middle America.”  The Independent.

3.  The Storied Life of A.J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (already recommended to me by a book club follower and I have read it praised by other writers.) “This novel has humor, romance, a touch of suspense, but most of all love–love of books and bookish people and, really, all of humanity in its imperfect glory.” — Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child.

I look forward to hearing your votes!  Just put a comment at the bottom of this post with your vote on it.  Thanks so much.  I will publish the chosen book on Monday 8th June.   Happy Reading!