This is one of those quiet books that links nature and human grief… without really sentimentalising it. Macdonald trains Mabel (the goshawk) as a way of reconnecting with herself, of dealing with grief about her father’s death, and she writes about that beautifully without ever reducing it to a picture-perfect moment of “nature healing” or something. I actually found it pretty painful to read: recognising some of the grief, the depression; knowing all about that disconnection.
I can see why people don’t enjoy it. It’s had good press, and won awards, but it’s not an exciting triumph against adversity or a horror story written to wring the heart, something like A Child Called It. It’s a meandering through grief and back to the world, with literary allusions, glances back over the shoulder at history, at T.H. White. In a way, it’s a biography of T.H. White, as encapsulated in his own battles with his hawk — I feel like I understand him more now through Macdonald than I ever did through reading his work.
It’s not an uplifting story. It’s not a triumph. It’s uncompromising and lovely, like the hawk herself, and you have to accept the beauty as it comes, with the raw meat and grim struggles it entails as well.