H is for Hawk is non-fiction. It’s not the book’s fault. It’s the story of a real woman (author Helen MacDonald) and her real hawk (Mable). And it has gorgeous writing. Really beautiful stuff. The kind that makes you stop and read it out loud to whoever is in the room with you (which, thankfully, was only S. and not my fellow bus passengers – though I bet they’d have appreciated the beauty, too).
It’s also kind of slow. Helen’s father dies. She gets a baby hawk. She teaches the hawk to hunt. She experiences depression. She mourns. It’s not the plot of a novel; it’s the plot of someone’s life, Helen’s life. Well, it would be except that the book also includes a sort of mini-biography within the memoir of falconer and author T H White. The bits about White were… distracting and dull. I suspect they were meant to illuminate ideas about Helen’s life and her work towards healing. Suffice it to say I found the parts about Helen and Mabel more engaging and enriching. I found it hard to make the leap between White and Helen, as if the relationship between the two was meaningful for Helen, but not sufficiently argued for me to see the connection.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s not all about engagement and excitement. I appreciated that much of this book was thematically and structurally about patience. Waiting for the hawk, waiting for grief, waiting for plot. It’s also about time. And about how our sense of our self shifts in place, time and relationship. And space – the contours and power of a specific location. I appreciated the gentle and the meditative. I really did.
And there’s no but. Just the caution that you might expect long – and elegant and surprising and sharp – explorations of landscape and a bird’s movement through it. Plus some brambles.
Read it for the beautiful writing. And let me know what you think.