Monday, February 08, 2016

BOOKS | H is for Hawk

I've just finished reading Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk. My reading journal tells me that I started the book May of last year, and I finished it in February of this year. It took me a while, through no fault of the book itself. Life, and my short attention span made it so.

The book isn't always an easy read - partly because it's a few narrative threads running through, and because it is essentially a book on grief, on memories. Helen Macdonald tells of her experience trying to raise a hunting goshawk, even as she narrates the story of author T.H. White's (the author of The Once and Future King, the re-telling of the young Arthur's training under Merlyn) own neurotic attempt to raise a goshawk. For T.H. White, the desire to raise a goshawk comes from some self-seated self-loathing and anxieties over his own repressed homosexuality, for Helen Macdonald, it came soon after the death of her beloved father.

The two narratives run side by side in a somewhat lopsided fashion. T.H. White's narrative makes him seem like an odd, silly little man, throwing himself towards danger his entire life to prove his own masculinity to himself. That is sad, really, because he never could master the goshawk, and in the end lost it, by sheer negligence. Meanwhile, Helen Macdonald's grief was palpable through out the book, and her goshawk feels feral, alien and emotionally unavailable (I can't believe I am using this term for a bird of prey). The human trying to master the goshawk, and both learning that they would never quite tame the creature that is violence and murder, and both wondering if perhaps there is something within themselves that has been found wanting by their goshawk.

In the end, grief resolves itself. Nothing changed. Macdonald's hands are full of scars from the goshawk, and then there are the other scars, unseen. Yet time does heal, and she moved on, as she ends the book with her passing the goshawk to a friend for a few month; the goshawk would be moulting soon, and the next time she sees the goshawk, it shall be with a new set of feathers, and she will be different. Perhaps, that is Macdonald's own process of moulting, of shedding old grief, and growing new ones.

PS: Mid-way through the book last night, I came across a mention of Olivia Laing's The Trip to Echo Spring in H is for Hawk. It was an odd sort of synchronicity, because I had just picked up Olivia Laing's To the River earlier from the library. Soon after I finished H is for Hawk, I picked up and read To the River, and there in the page listing the Illustrations, was this credit: Map of the River Ouse, by Helen Macdonald.

Sometimes, it seems like my books are talking to one another, and they lead us to their friends by whispering to us through the pages.

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