Excerpt from H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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H is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald X
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2016, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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II
Leaving home

Keys in pocket, hawk on fist, and off we go. Leaving the house that evening is frightening. Somewhere in my mind ropes uncoil and fall. It feels like an unmooring, as if I were an airship ascending on its maiden flight into darkness. Step¬ping over the low railings into the park I head for the thick black avenue of limes and the lamplit leaves beneath. Every¬thing seems hot and clean and dangerous and my senses are screwed to their utmost, as if someone had told me the park was full of hungry lions. Night air moves in the spaces between the trees. Moths make dusty circles about the lamps. I look down and see each pale blade of grass casts two separate shadows from the two nearest lamps, and so do I, and in the distance comes the collapsing echo of a moving train and somewhere closer a dog barks twice and there's broken glass by the path and next to it a feather from the breast of a woodpigeon judging by its size and curl. It lies upon the grass as if held just above it, gleaming softly in the darkness.

'Bloody hell, Mabel,' I whisper. 'Who spiked my tea with acid?' Night has never looked like this before. I walk deeper into this lamplit world, wondering at my heightened percep¬tion and reassured by how unconcerned the hawk is. She does not look up. She couldn't care less about her surround¬ings. She is hunched busily over the rabbit leg in my glove. It is a tiring – a piece of sinewy, bony meat to keep her occupied as we walk, drawing her attention from the things around her. She pulls and picks scraps from it with the rapt concentration of a diner disassembling a lobster. Watching her I begin to relax. And straight away the emptied world is full of people.

But they are not people. They are things to shun, to fear, to turn from, shielding my hawk. They come towards us like tumbling rocks in a video game, threatening destruction with the merest glancing blow. My heart beats fast. Escape and evasion. I am here to show people to the hawk, but from a safe distance merely, and those three men in pastel shirts are heading right towards us. I dodge behind a tree trunk and let them pass. When their backs enter Mabel's line of sight she sucks her feathers in so tightly she seems vacuum-packed in plastic. When they are gone she shakes her head nervously, cheeps once through her nose and starts eating again.

A minute later a woman swinging supermarket bags is upon us. There's nowhere to go. Where did all these bloody people come from? I look about in desperation. Mabel is now a pair of huge and haunted eyes, a ghost of bones and sinews, seconds from a bate. I hold her close to my chest and turn in a slow circle to block the woman from view. The woman doesn't see the hawk. What she sees is a weirdo in a tattered jacket and baggy corduroy trousers revolving on the spot for no good reason. She hurries past, fast. There's a sense of dreadful escalation. It's fine, I tell myself. This is going well, but blood sings loud in my ears. A bicycle hisses by. The hawk bates. I curse. Another bicycle. She bates again. My nerve breaks. I start back to the house. We are nearly at the door when a runner passes – he's come up silently behind us on his expensive trainers – and the hawk bates once again. I hate him for upsetting my hawk – actually hate him, am outraged by his existence. All the anger within me, the anger I didn't know was there, the anger the books call One of the Five Stages of Grief rears up in a towering instant of white-hot fury. I look at his retreating back and wish him death. But then he breaks stride, turns back, and stops ten feet from us.

'Sorry,' I say, smiling and biting back ire. 'It's her first time out of the house, and she's still scared of people.'

'God, no. I'm sorry,' he says. 'I didn't see her.'

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Excerpted from H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Copyright © 2015 by Helen Macdonald. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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