Books on GIF #12 — 'H Is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'H Is for Hawk,' by Helen Macdonald.

H is for Hawk

This is a memoir about loss, grief and getting through.

When the author's father dies suddenly, she is overcome with depression. Shattered.

A lifelong falconry enthusiast, Macdonald buys a goshawk that she names Mabel. Training Mabel, she believes, will help her cope with her father's death.

The book not only chronicles Helen and Mabel's relationship, but it also tells a parallel and even more depressing story of author T.H. White, who is best known for writing 'The Sword in the Stone.'*

As she becomes more focused on Mabel, Macdonald retreats from the world — bills go unpaid, a teaching gig fades, the house goes unkempt and she shuns most people. She's fully in the hawk's world and even imagines she's becoming like a hawk: Solitary. Fixated on death.

But a blow to the head and antidepressants break the spell, and, like Michelle Pfeiffer in 'Ladyhawke,' once freed she can then rejoin the human world.

As I read 'H' I kept thinking about Cheryl Strayed's 'Wild.'

My first thought was that these books were very similar, perhaps even complementary. After all, they both contain a female protagonist who, after suffering trauma or not living her best life, decides to take on an unusual and daunting challenge to set herself back on course. But after reflecting a bit, I realized the similarities are only superficial. 'Wild' is positive and aims to inspire. 'H' is a relentless bummer. (The saddest scene of all is saved for the acknowledgements at the end of the book, like a depressing after-credits scene from a superhero movie. I won't spoil it here, but I thought it was disrespectful and it upset me.) At the end, I didn't know what helped more: Mabel or medication. **

'H Is for Hawk,' by Helen Macdonald, was published by Grove Atlantic in 2014. 300 pages. 

My rating:

What's next? In the coming weeks, I'll review 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' by Raymond Carver and 'Outline' by Rachel Cusk.

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* He also wrote a book called 'The Goshawk,' a seminal tome in Macdonald's life. When she's not describing her own grief, she relates White's terrible life of repressed homosexuality, fear, dread and bad hawking.
** If you've read both books, shoot me a note with your thoughts.