H is for…


Macdonald of that ilk.  She had a book out a year or two ago; it won an award.  And it has been talked about endlessly.  It is a volume I picked up several times in bookstores far and wide.  And always put it back.  For reasons unknown.

H is for Hawk.  I’d already been reading about the Goshawk when it first came out, through Conor Mark Jameson’s quest to find them.  I enjoyed that one.  So perhaps it was the captive bird, and the training to the gloved fist that put me off.


Jameson spoke at East Neuk that year.  And Helen was at the same place last week, when I was bobbing about on the Clyde.

I finally bought the book just recently, on a whim.  Then I heard John Lister-Kaye talking on the radio.  He too was heading for Fife, and he spoke of Helen, eloquently.  He revelled in her words, and the order of them.  So I started to read it.  The time must be right.

A day or two later it was Helen herself on the wireless.  A reading too.  I was in the car, listening.  When I picked the book up again did I not find my bookmark in the very page from which she had read?  This was getting in the ‘meant to be’ category.

I read on.  She mentioned Lord Tweedsmuir.  And in that same secondhand shop, on that same whim, had I not also picked up a volume by Tweedsmuir himself.  I felt the hand of Mulder on my shoulder.

But so to the book.  Well it is certainly a good one.  She writes well.  And she tells at least three tales, wrapped together, mingled.  There is her hawk, Mabel, and the story of how they came together, and how they trained each other.

She had been keen on falconry since childhood.  T H White’s Goshawk a favourite from then.  Jameson too paid homage to White through his quest.  But Helen gave us more of the man, and his bird.

And through all that there is tragedy; the death of her father, and the recovery, the memories, the healing.  It is quite a remarkable work.  The writing is superb.  But I think I prefer Jameson’s wild birds to the hooded and trained variants.  And T H White is not an author I’ll be rushing to find.  Not yet anyway.  But I will look for more from Helen Macdonald.  Of that you can be sure.


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