Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Publication Date: 2015
Length: 11 hours, 6 minutes
From the publisher:
When Helen MacDonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer 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 anger 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 journey into Mabel’s world. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of MacDonald’s humanity.
By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement, a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, and the story of an eccentric falconer and legendary writer. Weaving together obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history, H Is for Hawk is a distinctive, surprising blend of nature writing and memoir from a very gifted writer.
This is so not a book that I would be inclined to pick up. A memoir about grief? No thanks I’ll pass. Even though many of my friends loved the book I just wasn’t that interested. Then I started hearing that the audiobook was worth a listen because the author’s narration was so good. There was gushing about her narration. So, I decided to give it a shot.
It’s partly about working through her grief after the sudden death of her father but there’s more. It’s also about an experienced falconer taking on the training of a traditionally hard to train goshawk. It’s also about T. H. White (author of The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone). He wrote a book called The Goshawk about his own less than successful training of a goshawk. Throughout the book his training serves as a counterpoint to MacDonald’s own work with her bird.
Go to Helen MacDonald’s Blog to see a stunning photo of her goshawk.
What I enjoyed most about this book was learning about falconry and MacDonald’s relationship with her goshawk. It was fascinating and fun to learn that her goshawk liked to play.
There were a couple of times when MacDonald talked about her grieving process that absolutely hit home to me. I lost my father when I was in my early twenties and my mother when I was in my mid-thirties.
What happens to the mind after bereavement makes no sense until later.
The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories but sates of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.
I’m not sure I would have liked this book in print. MacDonald’s narration is fabulous. I wish she would start a second career as a narrator. Authors as narrators can be hit or miss but opting to have MacDonald narrate her own bool was a brilliant choice.
I think that the way I tend to listen to audiobooks had a lot to do with the fact I liked this one. I typically only listen when I’m in the car by myself (commuting and errands). That means I experience audiobooks in small bits and pieces. This book worked well that way.
3.5/5 for the book
5/5 for the narration