The first, out in England just about now, is by a name long - time Q readers will know well: Pluvialis, Helen Macdonald, author of Falcon, blogger, poet, sometime historian of science, and falconer. With her new book, H is For Hawk, she should get the recognition she deserves as one of the most brilliant nature writers living, and those of us who have been printing out and filing her blog posts now have an entire book of her best work yet to read and reread.
|Helen at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin TX, researching TH White's papers|
And I do mean reread. "H" is about training a Goshawk, about TH White's great sad book about the same, and about her grief at her father's death, all braided into a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. But what parts! Line by line, Helen may be the most incandescent "nature writer" I know. I decided to open the book without looking where to see if I could get a good quote and laughed with delight.
"Everything was gone except this quiet sylvan scene. Into which I intended to let slip havoc and murder. I stalked around the edge of the wood, crouching low, holding my breath. My attention was microscopically fierce. I'd become a thing of eyes and will alone. Mabel held her wings out from her sides, her head snaking, reptilian, eyes glowing. It felt like I was holding that bastard offering of a flaming torch and an assault rifle. Soft grass underfoot. One hand out to steady my self, we picked our way around to the final corner. And then I slowly extended my gloved fist out from the screen of brush.
"The hawk left the fist with the recoil of a .303 rifle. I stepped out to watch. Saw a chain of events so fast they snapped into a comic strip: frame, frame, frame. Frame one: gopshawk spluttering from the fist in bars and pinions and talons. Frame two: goshawk low to the ground, grass streaking along under her. Chocolate wings, beating strongly, hump-backed. Frame three: rabbits running. Frame four: The pheasant, too, crouching and running into the wood's safe margin.
"But it wasn't safe. Split-second, ink-starred decisions in the hawk's tactical computer. She slewed round sling-shot style, heel-bow, soaking up g-force like a sponge. Closed her wings and was gone. Sucked into the black hole of the wood, beneath a low-hanging larch branch. Everything disappeared. No rabbits, no pheasant, no hawk. Just a black hole in the wood's edge. It had gone very quiet. There was the distant coc-coc-coc of a scared pheasant."
You can get H is for H here at Amazon UK; the US edition is coming in December from Grove Atlantic.
Painted Horses. Here is what I said about it after reading it in manuscript.
" I read Malcolm Brooks’ new novel, Painted Horses, with fascination, then amazement. Big, thrilling, poignant, astonishingly confident, it is the work of a master rather than that of a first-time novelist. With a story that moves from the bombed cities and battlefields of Europe to the wild badlands of Eastern Montana, and an eye for everything from the quality of a horse to the techniques of painting and archaeology, it will draw you in and leave you dreaming. I have rarely read a novel that realized a world so well.”
It is not just the best first novel I have ever read ; it is one of the best novels I have read in years. And it's not just me. Rick Bass compares it to the Border trilogy and Angle of Repose; Carolyn Chute says that the "Great American novel still lives"; David James Duncan says "There isn’t a passing landscape, archaeological wonder, minor character, dialect, or wild horse in this story that isn’t convincing"; Lily King that "“Malcolm Brooks has the same intuitive understanding of women that his character John H has of horses. Painted Horses is a beautiful, sensual, authentic novel. A western novel that is about so much more than the West, it is an exquisite, enthralling debut.”
Here is Malcolm on YouTube, answering some questions:
And a few photos for his fans- to- be: dinner with us and Penelope Caldwell in Laramie; chez Carlos Martinez del Rio, also in Laramie; and with a pheasant at home in Montana.