What a wonderful book. When it first came out and got lots of praise I stupidly decided that it was not for me, possibly because the praise tended to focus on lyrical nature writing and that is not something I enjoy. However, my friend Nicola Davies was adamant that I give it a shot. I did, and was entranced from the word go.
The writing is not lyrical as I understand it. It is sharp, penetrating, incisive and eye-opening. Helen MacDonald has a gift for metaphors and similes that I envy. Her writing is clear-eyed but not harsh, and I marvelled at how she wove the three threads of her father and his death, TH White and his gos and her own adventures with Mabel into a tight, seamless braid.
There are so many bits of writing -- sentences, phrases -- that I could have noted. These are just a few of the ones that struck me even more forcefully.
Highlight - 1. Patience > Page 2 · Location 65
like someone’s tipped a snow leopard into your kitchen and you find it eating the cat.
Highlight - 4. Mr White > Page 42 · Location 655
‘We all stand in the shadow of a great fear,’ the Oxford historian Denis Brogan had written two months earlier. ‘And if the angel of death is not yet abroad in the land, we can hear the beating of his wings –and see them too, filling our old familiar sky.’
Highlight - 14. The line > Page 135 · Location 2012
The next day a plague of moorhens had come out of the messy copse behind the pavilion and were running all over the pitch like a flock of feathered black mice. Moorhens! Birds that can neither fly well nor run fast, they are such easy prey for goshawks that falconers avoid flying them out of a sense of sporting fair play. Mabel had never seen them before, but she looked upon them now as if they had been designed by a kindly deity for her personal delectation.
Highlight - 18. Flying free > Page 173 · Location 2503
Mabel held her wings out from her sides, her head snaking, reptilian, eyes glowing. It felt like I was holding the bastard offspring of a flaming torch and an assault rifle.
Highlight - 22. Apple Day > Page 209 · Location 3009
They are like explaining how it feels to be in love by waving an MRI scan of a lovestruck brain. You have to look in different places.
Highlight - 23. Memorial > Page 216 · Location 3115
And the wild is not a panacea for the human soul; too much in the air can corrode it to nothing.
Highlight - 24. Drugs > Page 220 · Location 3164
There is no need, right now, to feel close to a fetch of dark northern woods, a creature with baleful eyes and death in her foot. Human hands are for holding other hands. Human arms are for holding other humans close. They’re not for breaking the necks of rabbits, pulling loops of viscera out onto leaf-litter while the hawk dips her head to drink blood from her quarry’s chest cavity. I watch all these things going on and my heart is salt.
Highlight - 25. Magical places > Page 235 · Location 3381
Mabel comes up behind him like a gust of wind carrying the angel of death.
Highlight - 28. Winter histories > Page 260 · Location 3744
The deer in procession resemble charcoal cave paintings rendered manifest. Art’s magic working backwards.
Helen Macdonald H is for Hawk. Grove Press, 2016.