This book has won all sorts of awards for Helen Macdonald, including the Samuel Johnson Prize for non fiction and is well deserved. It is the story of Helen training a goshawk, but also about her grieving for her father, both of which are interweaved with the history of hawking, and of the reference books, in particular, T H White’s The Goshawk.
She has a fantastic way with words, and I was kept busy scribbling choice paragraphs into my book of quotes, especially about landscape and about loss of her father. T H White is famous for The Once and Future King which was the basis for the musical Camelot. She spends lot of time on this book, claiming his difficult childhood explained his unhappiness, his problems training his goshawk, but she made a lot of assumptions here that I felt were impossible to be certain of.
Her obsession with goshawks is in part due to their beauty,but also their reputation for being difficult, and I found it particularly interesting how they were praised in Elizabethan times, so this seems to be more to do with how females were treated in the broader sense.
She claims that the cure for loneliness is solitude, a strange notion at first but one which makes sense, as solitude is a way of gathering your resources, to recover. I love this:
“Of all the lessons I’ve learned in my months with Mabel this is the greatest of all: that there is a world of things out there- rocks and trees and stones and grass and all the things that crawl and run and fly. They are all things in themselves, but we make them sensible to us by giving hem meanings that shore up our own views of the world. In my time with Mabel I’ve learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not. And I have learned, too, the danger that comes in mistaking the wildness we give a thing for the wildness that animates it. Goshawks are things of death and blood and gore, but they are not excuses for atrocities. Their inhumanity is to be treasured because what they do has nothing to do with us at all. “