Helen Macdonald’s novel H Is for Hawk is infuriating because it’s overwhelmingly kind and has just the sort of style that I often shoot for in Adventures. It hops and skips along, without a mean bone in its body. There’s so much momentum to every paragraph, every sentence, that you cannot help but become infatuated with Helen’s care for detail.
This is one of those books where I find that I don’t care much for the subject matter (hawks) but you cannot stop me from reading everything Helen has to say about them. This, I feel, is the mark of a truly great book.
Not only that, but it’s about England. Which right now is particularly difficult for me to read about since I haven’t been home in more than a year. Helen writes about the time before Brexit where the signs were in the air, when folks spoke of “Old England,” as if there was a time in the past we could return to. A time of purity and honor.
But Helen says absolutely not:
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Old England is an imaginary place, a landscape built from words, woodcuts, films, paintings, picturesque engravings. It is a place imagined by people, and people do not live very long or look very hard. We are very bad at scale. The things that live in the soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine. We are bad at time, too. We cannot remember what lived here before we did; we cannot love what is not. Nor can we imagine what will be different when we are dead. We live out our three score and ten, and tie our knots and lines only to ourselves. We take solace in pictures, and we wipe the hills of history.