January 28, 2015

Helen Macdonald wins Costa Book Prize


H is for Hawk

Of course Helen Macdonald won the 35,000 pound Costa Prize. She trained a Goshawk and wrote a book about it (weaving in the story of novelist TH White and her own story of grieving for her father). Did any other authors in the running train a bird of prey? That’s what I thought.

Macdonald’s H is for Hawk also snagged the Samuel Johnson Prize this year. The BBC called it the first biography to win the Costa Prize in ten years, but if we’re being technical, it’s not just biography.

Robert Harris, chair of the judges and an author in his own right, praises the book for “the way it melds the memoir about grief, a biography of TH White and also this sort of wonderful evocation of nature and a hawk, it does something quite unique.”

He adds:

“Everybody agreed it was wonderful, muscular, precise, scalpel-like prose. It was a very clever and accomplished piece of writing that wove everything together. There are some books that win prizes because they demand it and then the public don’t quite get it. This is a book I think which everyone will like.”

The Costa’s managed to figure out a way to award five winners and an overall winner. Ali Smith took home the prize in the fiction category; Emma Healey won the first novel award for Elizabeth Is Missing; Jonathan Edwards took the poetry prize for My Family and Other Superheroes; and Kate Saunders took the children’s literature award for Five Children on the Western Front. Each received a 5,000 pound prize (about $7,600 U.S.).

The only nagging question is–why isn’t everyone reading Smith’s How to Be Both? The book was the favorite to win the Costa, and Smith narrowly missed out this year’s Booker Prize. Healey’s novel is the best-selling title of the winners, clocking in at around 81,000 Bookscan copies, ahead of Macdonald by a little over a thousand.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.