Daniel Juckes reviews 'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald

Daniel Juckes reviews 'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

Vintage, $22.99 pb, 320 pp, 9780099575450

After fiddling with the bits of leather designed to curtail a newly bought goshawk, T.H. White grumbled that 'It has never been easy to learn life from books' (The Goshawk, 1963). Helen Macdonald says the same thing, twice: all the books in piles on her desk, designed to help her deal with grief, cannot 'taxonomise the process, order it, make it sensible'. 'The books don't work,' she says. But it is The Goshawk and her own goshawk that pull her back into the world after her father's death, showing that books do work, but not on their own, and not in the way Macdonald imagined.

Each story Macdonald tells – of Mabel the goshawk, of White, of life after her father – wraps around the other like the jesses, swivel, and leash with which White fumbled. The prose has a hushed quality built from patient watching, from observing the hawk's flickering eyelids and the shuffling sounds of her preening. The silence is broken occasionally by the violence and movement of grief and the hunt. Wildness is not quite as separate as we like to imagine, and grief can show a different side of our own nature.

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Daniel Juckes

Daniel Juckes

Daniel Juckes is a creative writer and PhD candidate from Curtin University, Western Australia. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts (History and Politics) and then from Curtin with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing and Publishing. His reviews have been published in Grok and on the Westerly blog. His research interests include autobiography, family memoir, and nostalgia. His current creative work-in-progress is a family history/memoir inspired by heirlooms and ephemera.

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