H IS FOR HAWK by Helen McDonald

The cover blurb for H is for Hawk reads: ‘As a child, Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer, learning the arcane terminology and reading all the classic books. Years later, when her father died and she was struck deeply by grief, she became obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She bought Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.

H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming. This is a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to reconcile death with life and love.’
This creative non-fiction best-seller was winner of the Costa Book of the Year and winner of the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. The critics all loved it, and so did the Berwick Book Club members. We had a very enjoyable discussion which covered a lot of ground. Comments included:
It reads like a novel, written in scenes with tension and narrative drive. She has a lyrical style. It doesn’t read like the writing of an academic. Exceptionally well written
The opening pages were particularly affecting and the first meeting with the hawk made for compelling reading.
The book was great on the history of hawking, which some of our members particularly enjoyed. One member informed us that Goshawks are secretive wonderful birds, and they have a stronghold in the Scottish borders. They live in forests with wide rides. They are top of the food chain and can catch a sparrow hawk! On the other hand, some members loved the book but hated the subject, finding both hawk and hawker/training methods brutal and cruel. A number of us commented on the revelation that, if McDonald had not killed the rabbits Martha caught, then the hawk would have begun eating them while they were still alive.
We found it a testament to grief and grieving and a compelling study of depression. Particular mentions were made of the scene outside the hospital when she burst into tears watched by her mother and brother, and her discovery of the last photograph her father took.
Some found the TH White sections peripheral, whereas others thought them the most interesting part of the book. We all loved the way the two threads wove together in the end with TH White trying to find the boyhood he had lost lost and Helen McDonald trying to find the father she lost.

February’s book is ‘A God in Ruins’ by Kate Atkinson


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About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-berwick-book-group.

January 2016
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