It's simple. If you want a well-behaved goshawk, you just have to do one thing. Give 'em the opportunity to kill things. Kill as much as possible. Murder sorts them out.
Part memoir, part nature writing, part fiction, H Is For Hawk doesn’t just defy conventional classification of books but also pushes our boundaries as a reader. It’s unlike anything you would have attempted before. Macdonald skins baby chicks to offer them to her goshawk. She breaks the necks of wild rabbits so that it doesn’t eat them alive. Unhinged, and infected by “a kind of madness”, she becomes its twin: “solitary, self-possessed, free from grief and numb to the hurts of human life.”
Her battle with grief begins when her photographer father dies unexpectedly. She has “no partner, no children, no home. No nine-to-five job either.” An experienced falconer, she then turns her attention to a goshawk – “the birdwatchers’ dark grail” – with a fierce and feral temperament that mirrors her own.
Macdonald buys the wild bird for £800 from a man she met on the internet and starts taming it in her small Cambridge house. Curtains drawn. Phone unplugged. And while at it, she rereads The Once and Future King author TH White's chronicle The Goshawk and delves deeply into his life, contrasting it with her own that ends much differently from his.
She realises that her hawk didn’t take her further from grief but further from life. “The wild is not a panacea for the human soul,” she writes. “Too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.”
H is for Hawk had caused much chaos: fought over by publishers at auctions, it topped the Sunday Times bestseller list within a fortnight of its release. Among other honours, it won the Samuel Johnson Prize and Costa Book of the Year award.
Published in 2014.