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H is for Hawk
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October 2017 > H Is for Hawk Discussion

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Ellen | 224 comments This was an interesting book, on a topic that couldn't have been more foreign to me. I assume this whole hawk-raising/training thing is much more a British/European than American thing. I had to sort of get past that before I could engage with the book.

What were your initial reactions?

The format of the book also took some getting used to for me, namely the interspersing of the sections about T.H. White and his book The Goshawk. This device was erratic in my opinion. Sometimes it added to the author's story, but other times it detracted from it. I confess I knew nothing about White going into this and I have never read any of his works.

What did you think of the parallel White sections of this book? Have you read anything by White?

Ellen | 224 comments I have not listened to it yet, but Slate's Audio Book Club discussed H is for Hawk in May 2015 and here is the link to that:


And there is a related article in Slate at:


message 3: by Kath (last edited Oct 24, 2017 06:34AM) (new) - added it

Kath | 202 comments Mod
A quick disclaimer that I haven't quite finished the book yet. I recently read Terry Tempest Williams book Refuge which was a memoir of her life during her mother's cancer and death and also the environmental changes at the Great Salt Lake bird refuge. I loved that book but was initially fearful that this one would be too similarly themed. Not the case at all.

Ellen, like you say, this hawk raising was an incredibly foreign topic to me as well -- though I am fascinated by it. It seems like such a strange reaction to grief to seclude yourself and bring this wild thing into your home. Birds in general already seem so foreign to me (compared to dogs and cats where there feels like some level of communication) but this big, ferocious raptor seems even more so. I guess grief manifests differently in everyone, this just seemed so extreme.

I'm finding her writing very beautiful and she brings Mabel and their surroundings vividly to life for me. I agree I found the TH White stuff a little distracting at first but also found it interesting as well. I read The Once and Future King decades ago but knew nothing of White as a person. I think I may even be interested in revisiting his work.

message 4: by Marlies (new)

Marlies Borzynski | 61 comments I have to say that I haven't finished this book as well. It is a little maddening that for me it can be captivating for a few pages and then a little slow which is why its taking me so long to finish. I'm not sure exactly what it is about the book that makes it interesting or tiresome, perhaps Ellen is right about the switching between her and White that makes it like that. Or perhaps it's just that the topic of birds are so removed from me. Did anyone else feel like this while reading the book? I still have about 150 pages left which I will try to finish by the end of the week.

Ellen | 224 comments Now that you mention it, Marlies, I think I had the same reaction you did. I suspect some of it had to do with the lack of normal time passage cues I am used to in a book, plus the White switching we have already referred to.

It was often difficult for me to figure out how much time had passed between events and/or activities described in a given chapter. For example, it seemed like the memorial service for her father was coming forever. Was it planned months ahead of time?

I was also unclear on when her father died and when she got the hawk in relation to that event.

Ellen | 224 comments I'm going to be at a conference the next couple days, so might not have much time to chime in. So I'm going to throw out the topic of teaching Mabel to hunt.

What did you all think about those parts of the book?

I was a astonished that the author would crash through thorn bushes and hedges to flush out the quarry for Mabel and even kill it, so she didn't have to watch it suffer. I think she mentioned that her friend had his dog do most of that work for him instead, but Helen did not have a dog.

I couldn't help wondering if this was normal activity for a trainer or whether Helen was so immersed in her grief that she really was not thinking rationally a lot of the time. She even referred to this herself more than once.

Ellen | 224 comments Did people not have the time or interest to read this book? Just curious, no judgment :-) I apologize for sort of dropping out to attend a conference.

I just listened to the Slate Audio Book Club on this book and enjoyed that too. They delve into the style of the author and agreed with us that the White parallel sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.

FYI, this Wed. (11/1/17) the Nature program on the local PBS station (WNED) is featuring Helen MacDonald and hawks. Obviously not Mabel, but I am looking forward to watching that show and seeing the author with a hawk.

message 8: by Kath (new) - added it

Kath | 202 comments Mod
Regarding Helen teaching Mabel to hunt, I also found it astonishing (and odd) that she would flush the quarry etc. I definitely did not feel this was normal for a trainer. She kind of made the comment here or there that she felt she was turning feral and this seemed like another example of that as she retreats from people and identifies more with the hawk. In some spots, she seems to lose perspective on herself and her training and has so much self doubt; I'm assuming a lot of that is a result of her grief. When she does discuss her hawk with other people or trainers they seem to help her by having a clearer, removed view and can help her see what should be changed (like having her hawk lose a couple of ounces of weight).

Thanks, Ellen, for leading the discussion and for the info on the Nature program -- I'll definitely tune in to that.

Also, no judgement, but I feel like participation in the book club has been fairly low this year so please let me know if there is something about our schedule or format that keeps you from participating. Or maybe we are doing too many books? All thoughts and comments appreciated!

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