H is for Help.
H is for Haunting.
Either could have been the title, but the fundamental of this book is the hawk that occupies it’s central plot.
Mabel is a young goshawk bought by Helen MacDonald in the wake of her father’s death. She sets herself a distraction from her profound grief to train this wild beast to the exclusion of everything else in her life.
It’s a return to her childhood where she had a fascination for hawking, partly fuelled by a 1950’s treatise on the subject written by closet homosexual T.H. White and author of what became both Camelot and The Sword in the Stone. It’s a book she disliked intensely at the time but that she has come around to as she sets out to make Mabel a controllable accomplice (she’ll never be a pet).
I’ve never read a book even remotely like this. Macdonald is a poet and that certainly comes through in some of the long descriptive chapters that capture her state of mind (not healthy) and the world she is drawn into.
Rarely can anyone have written such a loving description of the English countryside with its unwritten rules, its foibles and its power.
In fact rarely can a book like this have been written.
It operates on three levels. An unburdening of Macdonald’s grief for the death of her beloved father. An unsympathetic biography of T.H. White and a rip-roaring coaching manual on goshawk rearing.
It’s not an easy read but it’s a profound one and it threatens to become a modern classic in a category all of its own.
I would highly recommend it.