Wednesday, January 25, 2017

H is for Hawk

I mostly read fiction books, but "nature" nonfiction attracts my attention now and then. I suppose Helen Macdonald's account of training a goshawk counts as a nature book, but it is much, much more. Macdonald weaves the alien allure of this most extraordinary bird of prey, the craft and lore of falconry, her debilitating grief over the death of her father, the rich human history and uncertain future of the semi-wild English landscape, and a compressed, sad biography of T.H. White into a complete and absolutely compelling work of art. Her powers of description– internal, external, and speculative– are poetic. Funny, insecure, invincible, she invites you into her saga of grief, near-madness, and recovery. Her love for Mabel, her hawk, is all the more remarkable for the fact that, as she eventually concedes, the goshawk is other... inscrutable. Yet there is quite a bit of the goshawk in this woman: her ferocity, her independence, her virtuosity. A masterpiece.

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