Day 3: Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey
On the third day of Christmas my bookish baby sent to me…
Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey!
Perhaps only the animals can tell us what it is to be human.
What the Stella Prize judges said:
“In this collection of stories, closely linked by subject and theme, the souls of ten animals speak to the reader. All ten have died in some kind of human conflict: a fastidious cat in the Great War trenches, an oversexed mussel in Pearl Harbor, a philosophical parrot abandoned in war-torn Beirut. Ceridwen Dovey adds a further layer of meaning and allusion by linking each animal to one or more writers: the wartime cat is a pet of Colette’s, the ape and the tortoise come from stories by Kafka and Tolstoy respectively, and the camel is camped in the middle of a scenario by Henry Lawson.
“For so artfully structured and layered a book, this collection of stories both gives out and calls up an intensity of feeling rarely encountered in such cleverly self-referential writing. The book both avoids sentimentality and obliges readers to consider closely their own attitude to animals. And perhaps then to reconsider it.”
The souls of ten animals caught up in human conflicts over the last century tell their astonishing stories of life and death. In a trench on the Western Front a cat recalls her owner Colette’s theatrical antics in Paris. In Nazi Germany a dog seeks enlightenment. A Russian tortoise once owned by the Tolstoys drifts in space during the Cold War. In the siege of Sarajevo a bear starving to death tells a fairytale. And a dolphin sent to Iraq by the US Navy writes a letter to Sylvia Plath…
What the critics said:
‘[A]n ambitious book with a fable-like surface, and a whole churning world beneath.’ – Romy Ash, The Guardian
‘As a collection, Only the Animals works as a journey into empathy that, for all its ideas, never neglects the basics of fiction: showing readers in beautiful words compelling characters who do fascinating things. ‘ – LS, The Saturday Paper
‘[A] perfectly integrated work of art brilliantly disguised as a collection of short stories.’ – Richard King, The Monthly
‘The energy and disturbing creativity of Only the Animals comes from a grand ambition to do nothing less than to make animals speak out of and reflect the many histories – literary, biological, scientific and human – they have occupied.’ – Delia Falconer, Sydney Review of Books
- Ceridwen’s website
- Catherine Armitage interviews Ceridwen for the Sydney Morning Herald
- ‘The pencil and the damage done’ – Ceridwen’s essay for The Monthly on the perverse attraction of autobiographical fiction
- Ceridwen discusses Only the Animals on ABC Radio National Books and Arts
- Caroline Baum interviews Ceridwen for Booktopia