Friday, 27 March 2015

Broadway Book Club Discussion of H is For Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

Though there were only four of us for this discussion, it was a pretty lengthy one and there was a lot to talk about! We loved the style of Helen Macdonald's writing- she had such an acute eye for detail and description and the feel of the environment.

Comments about this book were overwhelmingly positive- we thought it was an accurate and very personal story of grief and depression. One member pointed out how surprised she was at how little Helen's father featured in the book, how little she talked about her memories of him, like the author wasn't permitting herself to think about him. We talked for a while about the surprises that loss brings and the things that bereaved people still find themselves doing- like making cups of tea for people that aren't there anymore, or reaching for the phone to call a person before realising that they won't answer. The book was a mixture of things that made it really unique- part nature writing, part literary criticism, part self help book and part memoir. We acknowledged that grief affects everybody differently and that some people might be more unaware of when things have crossed that invisible threshold into 'out of control'. We understood the need of Helen to invest so much of herself into her hawk- the need for distraction and discipline. It must have been hard for her friends to watch.

We all loved Mabel and how Helen's handling of her allowed her to have her own personality- playing catch with a hawk. Madness. We were collectively enraged when Helen's talent and compassion was belittled by the husband of a friend as being because the hawk and the handler were both female so 'of course they get along'. Helen offered a lot of insight into the patriarchy of her hobby- how most falconers' aim is to conquer their 'hormonal, irrational' birds, Helen was able to keep that balance between freedom and captivity well and she showed how important patience, hope and resilience are.

We had mixed feelings about TH White sections- some people felt that these parts were less enjoyable and disrupted the flow of Helen's story, but we were thought too that it was also kind of essential to understanding Helen's story. He wasn't an evil man, just inexperienced and misguided- we all felt really bad for Gos and all the misery and confusion she was put through before she escaped.

It was mentioned how surprisingly little this book gave away about Helen's life outside of falconry. We wondered if this was intentional, a result of her focus and obsession. We definitely felt like we got to know Mabel and Gos better than any of their humans!

The next book on our reading list is A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews. The next meeting will be at 7pm on April 30th at Broadway Cinema Nottingham. Hope to see you there!

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