This is a very unusual book.
The author experiences the sudden death of her father. She’s grieving. Her life seems to be falling apart. Her job is ending. She has no place to live. She has no significant other. So, what does she do? She decides to get a goshawk and train it. A hawk, she believes, will focus her attention away from pain. She begins the book by writing: “Looking for goshawks is like looking for grace: it comes, but not often, and you don’t get to say when or how.” That quote suggests how the book progresses. The reader searches throughout for the grace. It comes but we don’t know when or how.
MacDonald spends much of the book teaching us about hawks, falconry, and her love of the birds. She uses T.H. White as a resource for her own hawking experiences, talking about how his book affected her as a child.
Like MacDonald’s, T.H. White’s life is in ruins. He’s been bullied, rejected and abused. He’s gotten little recognition for his work. He drinks more than he should. He sees the challenge of the goshawk as something he must do. The difference in the two and their relationship with their hawks becomes apparent early on. Both, however, use the animal to overcome some deep sadness.
MacDonald describes her grief as an “uneventful, slow climb back into life after loss.” Her hawk helped her make that climb.
The words flow like poetry. The power of the author’s feelings spring from every page. Her pain, her agony, her fear, her loss all affected me, the reader. The horrid deaths of the creatures Mabel killed were difficult to read, but as the author wrote: “If you want a well-behaved goshawk, you just have to do one thing. Give ’em the opportunity to kill things. Kill as much as possible Murder sorts them out.” If you can get past the murders, this book is a must read.