As the UK’s most prestigious non-fiction award, the Samuel Johnson prize opens many doors for its winners. Although the award is open to all non-fiction books related to a wide spectrum of topics, it is usually won by a biography or historical book, such as last year’s winner Lucy Huges-Hallett with her biography on national hero D’Annunzio in ‘The Pike (Fourth Estate)’. The breaking of this norm with the success of Helen’s memoir reflects just how powerful her book is.
‘Congratulations to Helen Macdonald, who has written a book unlike any other, about an obsession with a wild creature, brought to life in prose sometimes technical and always striking, and set in English landscapes observed with a visionary eye. Writing about wild life and the environment has never been better or better informed than this.’ – Claire Tomalin, Chair of Judges.
Helen explores life and death in her memoir as she copes with grief by getting closer to nature; in particular by training wild goshawk Mabel. Helen bought Mabel for £800 after the sudden death of her father drove her to seek out her childhood ambition to train hawks. She then embarks on a journey to train the wild bird whilst coping with her grief and depression at the loss of her dad. Her obsession with Mabel is described beautifully with stunning metaphors and lyrical writing, whilst her candid approach makes her story all the more gripping. Helen’s personal story is also illustrated with a well researched exploration of TH White, who also documented his experiences with training a goshawk in his book ‘The Goshawk’. Completely unique, this memoir is a thoughtful and honest account that is well deserving of recognition.
Congratulations to Helen and the runners-up! We can’t wait to see what the next year holds in store for non-fiction.