H is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald

Book cover

As many good things as I had heard about this book, it really didn’t click with me. The premise seemed interesting to me–it is the author’s memoir of training a hawk as a sort of response to her father’s death, intertwined with her reading of T.H. White’s own memoir on his (fairly unsuccessful) experience of training a hawk. But I didn’t feel like I connected with either the author or her writing style. Perhaps I would have felt more of a connection if I had gone through a similar personal experience. Honestly, even though I thought it would be interesting to read about the falconry part, that ended up seeming weird to me too–I guess I can understand what Macdonald likes about it, but it didn’t seem at all appealing. The stuff about T.H. White was the most interesting. I started out liking Macdonald’s writing style, but ended up feeling tired of it. She is not cliched and comes up with some inventive turns of phrase, but she uses figurative language to a point that felt overwritten to me. She also does a fair amount of direct commentary (“I had learned from her that…”), which I didn’t like.

Altogether, it felt like a book that was almost tailor-made to be at the top of popular-intellectual best books lists. I don’t mean to imply at all that it was specifically written to that end. But the combination of personal tragedy, intellectual history, and quirky hobby is definitely NYT reviewer catnip. I might have liked the book better without all the hype around it, but without the hype, I don’t think I would have picked it up in the first place.

My Goodreads rating: 2 stars