A few years ago, we were very honoured to be part of the Costa Awards judging team. In terms of its ambition, scope and bellweather of what's 'hot' in the book world, we feel the Costa is arguably the UK's most important book award - it's certainly insanely ambitious given the sheer number of books that pass through the judges' hands.
Given the collegiate nature of the judging set-up, and the fact that almost invariably the judges won't be able to agree given the sheer range of books, some years you get the feeling that the overall winner is something of a compromise candidate. But not this year.
We felt last year was a strong line-up of finalists, with a worthy overall winner - this year even more so. 'H is for Hawk' is one of those rare books that is genuinely original, because you cannot think of anything quite like it. As you read Helen Macdonald's searingly honest story of how she came to train her Goshawk 'Mabel' - along the way coming to terms with her own grief at the death of her father, and revealing deep truths about our relationship with nature - shadows of other authors and books sometimes rise up: the heart-on-sleeve emotion of Anna Funder's 'Stasiland', the relationship with nature that you get from Roger Deakin's 'Waterlog' or the smack-in-the-chops revelations of Kate Summerscale's 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'. Yet it's like none of these books and is entirely original.
Last week we discussed this book on the BBC Radio Oxford Afternoon Bookclub. Fast forward 1 hour and 6 minutes to listen to the show. Despite a somewhat breathless and over-enthusiastic (!) description of the book, the recommendation is just to read it. H is for Heavyweight Winner...