H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Date Read: November 27, 2019 – December 7, 2019
Genres: Nature Writing, Biography, Memoir, Nonfiction
Setting: Cambridge, United Kingdom + United States
Duration: 9hr~11hrs approx
Published by Random House
Rating: 2 🌟🌟

H for Hawk is written by Helen Macdonald, a memoir brimmed with emotions of grief and bereavement for the loss of her father; and the journey to recovery.  Her journey began with the purchase of a Hawk, known as Mabel, in which they are known to pose a challenge training them due to their unstable temperament versus to their counterparts. Helen describes the days and nights she has spent with Mabel, while referencing to T.H. White passages from “The Goshawk” journey to her own.

I personally did not like H for Hawk for multiple of reasons. The author, intentionally or not, emulated an era and persona of the past in the period of 18th-19th century based on old writings. Helen lived in her books, fascinated by the past, and looked upon the how falconry was exclusive to the rich and aristocrat. I still wonder why she never wanted to become an ornithologist specialized in bird of prey.

Throughout the book, she has referenced to T.H. White in most of the pages, I understand she was influenced by him to a great extent and his view of the world of pain, frustration, loneliness and belonging. She has stated a disclaimer in the earlier pages alright, but that does not warrant a full book of his passages, one must ask oneself, whose biography are you reading? This brings me to my own thoughts of how Helen appears to mimic a character, another person, another era. It could be definitely a deliberate move in order for us to think so, but that showed me a severe lack of personality and uniqueness.

I understand while she was young, she read T.H. White “The Goshawk”, but the embodiment of self and projection of human desires into an animal is quite worrying; and it worries me further that Helen did the same for the grieve she has felt for the loss of her father. Example when she explained her social anxiety and withdrawn-ess from the society due to her becoming a “hawk” as they are solitary creatures. I am all for animals would be able to match human emotions and they would act accordingly, especially dogs, but projection and embodiment of self should never be it. It was disturbing when White compared his sexual frustration/lust on an animal that is “perceived” with unstable temperament and difficult to tame and handle.

Born toward the late 90’s, you’d expect exercising patience with animals and their training is becoming the norm. I have cringed so many times when she “knew” it would be best to stop the hunting for various reasons, but kept on going for who knows why, and eventually found herself in several predicaments. To give credits where they are due, Helen came to understand goshawks are not as what they were portrayed in the old books of being “peculiar dispositions: being jumpy, fractious, unsociable, sulky” of unstable temperament; as she has discovered Mabel ability to interact and exhibit ‘playfulness’ with a crumbled piece of paper.

The book in terms of coherency, flow and use of language … well, I am not fond of reading written work by philosophers, it was very good however. The flow and coherency from a paragraph to another, either same setting/scenario or different setting, would still make sense to you as a reader and would catch it quite quickly. I did not lag much when she jumped from herself to White and vice versa, which is something I appreciated in the book as not many have the skill to deliver. However, toward the end of the book, she seemed rushed and have jumped scenes and timelines quickly. The use of language, well, I do not like philosophy writers, therefore it was not appealing to me as she has used her wardrobe of vocabulary and sentence structure widely throughout the book. Quite good to learn new vocabulary words.

I could not feel empathy toward Helen, as the embodiment of another animal had disturbed me. Yes, she started to draw the line toward the end of the book that she is a human and Mabel was a bird of prey, but the journey was not pleasant. Has she admitted that she has bought Mabel on a whim due to jumble of emotions, I’d empathize, but alas that was not the case. It is her book and her rights to write the way she wants to, it does not row my boat.

Copyrights (c) Header by Vintage Classics (2016)

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