Review: H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

Pawsome Reads Book Club is an online Facebook book club for like minded pet owners and animal enthusiasts who appreciate the bond between humans and their animal companions. A friendly community, the only rules are nominated books must relate to pets or animal/human and that members must treat each other with kindness.

Featured books are discussed by sharing of thoughts and findings with no personal details of members shared. This post carries reviews from host Catherine Smith and from member Marcy Graybill of the club’s featured reads H is for Hawk.


H is for Hawk is a beautifully crafted account of grief, loss and recovery. The book takes you through Macdonald’s struggle to comprehend the loss of her father. She perfectly sums up the incredulity that accompanies a bereavement when life continues around you: “Planes still landed, cars still drove, people still shopped.”

Shattered by her father’s death, Macdonald becomes preoccupied with the thought of training her own goshawk. What ensues is a narrative of blood, sweat, and tears as Macdonald takes on the challenge to train a hawk. These birds although regarded by many as the ultimate hunting bird, are also regarded as the hardest to train being “prone to sulk in trees.”

The author provides a candid narrative of her struggle with her mental wellbeing as the strain of sorrow and the drive required to train Mabel her goshawk become at times overwhelming. She also provides an introduction to the rich language of falconry; rouse, baiting creance, fake. Her descriptions of the British countryside are delightfully tangible. A poignant moment is when Macdonald begins to emerge from her sorrow and once again takes note of the landscape around her “a land filling slowly with spots and lines of beauty.”


This is Ms. Macdonald’s story of coming to terms with her father’s sudden death and training a Goshawk, one of the most difficult hunting bird to train. Amongst the stories of her father, and of her training Mabel, she explores the book Goshawk by T. H. White, a book she first read when she was a child. She also discusses White’s struggles with life and training his hawk.

While I understand Ms. Macdonald’s need to use White as a foil for her training and her bereavement, I felt she spent far too much time on the details of White’s life, almost as if she was trying to excuse his behavior.

On the other hand, her book had so much interesting information and experiences. I loved the details of training Mabel. As a dog trainer, I can see how so much of what “old school” dog trainers do is nothing but superstition. Training a hawk takes it down to the bare bones. It’s about will get the animal to do the human’s bidding.

Watching Mcdonald deal with the loss of her father is very familiar. The isolation that she craves, but finds unsatisfying is very real to me. Losing oneself in nature or training or any other distraction only delays the reality. You must feel the feelings to get beyond grief.

I was concerned that the book would be depressing even sad, but this book touched me deeply. I felt a kinship with Macdonald. On the whole I would recommend this book to anyone interested in dealing with grief and, of course, falconry. It’s well written and almost lyrical. I listened to the books and greatly enjoyed listening to Ms. Macdonald read her book.

Catherine Smith is a pet owner, artist, and entrepreneur. She founded Muttleys, a fully-insured and professional First Aid Trainer, Dog Walker, and Pet Care Service provider based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. She also started Pawsome Reads Book Club

Marcy Graybill works at Lincoln City Libraries and the favorite part of her job is helping customers find books to read. She presents Book Talks twice a year at the library and review books for the libraries BookGuide web page. She owns a German Shepherd Dog,whom she trains for Competition Obedience and Rally, and a Painted Turtle. She has been an amateur artist for over 20 years and her favorite mediums are Colored Pencils and Acrylic. Her favorite music is Heavy Metal, which she listens to while she creates art and reads books.

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