I almost feel guilty recommending H is for Hawk, by Helen McDonald, considering that there are 86 holds on 47 available copies in the system, so nobody is going to be able to get this right away.  However, this was such an outstanding read that I want everybody in the world to read it!

You want to read it if you:

Love Memoirs — The story, boiled down to its essentials, is about Helen McDonald’s grieving for her father’s sudden and unexpected death.  In order to deal with her pain, she decides to train a goshawk, and the book details her experiences both with the falconry and with her emotional journey.   In some memoirs, you can get a little claustrophobic, stuck so tightly within one person’s head, but that’s not the case here.  Helen is a vivid, strong character who pays as much attention to the world around her as she does to her own emotions, and I was glad to spend time in her company.

Love Animals — Mabel, the goshawk Helen purchases, trains and flies, is a real character in her own right.  Helen does not treat the hawk as a slightly different kind of human being. She respects and observes Mabel for what she is and what she actually does, and I was fascinated by the intimate look at how hawks are trained, what they’re like, what the bond between hawks and human beings is like.

Love T. H. White, especially The Once and Future King — I know, this seems like a bit of a reach, but T. H. White wrote a book, Goshawk, about his experiences training a goshawk, and Helen reads and reacts to White’s book, interspersing his experiences with her experiences at similar stages of their hawks’ training.  This would be interesting in itself (you might think, if you’re a fan of The Once and Future King, that White really knew his falconry, but, based on what Helen tells us about Goshawk, there were some serious gaps in his knowledge), but Helen goes deeper than that, giving us White’s biography as well, with deep sympathy and understanding.  I will never see Sir Lancelot or Merlin in The Once and Future King again in the same way after reading this book.

Love Good Writing — If none of these other things make you want to read this book, her writing is gorgeous. Her descriptions of places just sing and bring the places to vivid life.  There are whole pages I just wanted to read aloud, to savor her choices of words and phrases and images.

The book is a delight: moving and surprising, well-written and insightful.  I heartily recommend it.






  1. I’m going to have to join that long line waiting for this book! Your review makes it sound irresistible. I like your light touch combined with sound information. H is for hot tip!


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