Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk has won the Costa book of the year award worth £30,000. The biography had already won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in November.
‘In real life, goshawks resemble sparrowhawks the way leopards resemble housecats. Bigger, yes, and also bulkier, bloodier, deadlier, scarier, and much, much harder to see. Birds of deep woodland, not gardens, they’re the birdwatchers’ dark grail.’
As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T.H. White’s tortured masterpiece, ‘The Goshawk’, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest. When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. This book is a record of a spiritual journey – an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming.
Novelist Robert Harris, chair of the judging panel, said: “It was brilliantly written, muscular prose and staring at grief with the unblinking eye of a hawk. It was a very clever, accomplished bit of writing that wove everything together. H is for Hawk has already had great success and has been acknowledged as a modern classic,” Mr Harris said. Several of the judges “felt very passionately it was a book that haunted them and they would never forget it”.