I did not intend to read H is for Hawk; an autobiography on training a hawk? Fat chance. A fellow blogger’s enthousiastic report made me change my mind. She claimed that H is for Hawk resembled literature. Where ‘normal’ autobiographies tend to fixate on facts and figures, MacDonald stays clear from a day to day account of her life. Maybe the span of time described in H is too short: MacDonald describes a mere 18 months in her life and that of goshawk Mabel. H is for Hawk starts shortly after the sudden death of her father. It is quite obvious that training Mabel is a remedy for MacDonald’s severe loss. In training Mabel she rereads Goshawk by TH WHite, a novel that does not really help her train Mabel, being the perfect example of how not to train a goshawk. The novel does help her get a grip on her own process of mourning. TH White also wrote the novel that made me decide to study English literature and write my endpaper on modern versions of the Arthurian matter: The Once and Future King.
H is for Hawk is a clever combination of goshawk training, mourning, Brittanica (I cannot imagine walking through Utrecht carrying a hawk on my hand, let alone flying her) and an analysis of Th White. I am glad that I read The Once and Future King not knowing a thing about TH White, I never knew he was such a troubled man.
MacDonald goes through a dark period coming to grips with her father’s death; Mabel helps her get through this period of mourning. Mabel being a goshawk the story never gets cheesy. Whenever her training threatens to become a succes story Mabel or MacDonald manage to do something wrong, leading to descriptions of MacDonald crashing through the woods, disturbing partridge farms and desperately trying to catch Mabels attention. Nice detail: apparantly goshawks are infamous for their loutish behaviour. They sulk, they are stubborn and tend to disobey their trainers every once in a while. Mabel turns out to be sweet and emotionally intelligent, she even plays with MacDonald. The reason might be quite simple: a female trainer is better suited to a goshawk. Men might be just too straightforward for this type of bird.
As I said, I normally do not go for autobiographies. This was an autobiography with a difference, I really liked it.