The sigh of satisfaction after finishing an extraordinary, quirky, thought-provoking book is a blissful sound indeed!
At the start I had no expections for Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals.
My aversion to talking animal stories is well documented!
The cover also intrigued & repelled in equal measure.
And for the first 2-3 stories I struggled a little with the talking animals. Not because the animals were talking….but because I kept forgetting that I was reading about animals who could ‘talk’. I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t reading a story about humans.
Perhaps that’s the only real flaw I can bring up with Only the Animals. All the animals are personified to such a degree that you forget that they are animal.That’s where the beauty & the uncomfortable part comes in though – what is human nature & what is animal nature & is the difference between the two really that great?
Although the book is set up as separate short stories, and I found that I could only read one at a time, the whole thing flowed together through time and space to present a united front.
Each animal was connected to a human writer at a time of conflict. I had enough literary knowledge to recognise & enjoy most of the references, allusions & homages. But I’m convinced you could enjoy these stories at any level.
My personal favourites? The Jack Kerouac style mussel story was hilarious, Colette’s cat was seductive, Tolstoy’s tortoise & the inspiring twin sister elephants will be revisited for the pure pleasure of it all.
I will leave you with the dolphin who wrote a letter to Sylvia Plath. She is discussing Ted Hughes, as dolphins do,
“Back then, I had admiringly thought he was trying to understand the human by way of the animal, but now I can see that in fact he wanted to justify the animal in the human.”
This post is part of my Australian Women Writers challenge.
9 thoughts on “Only the Animals | Ceridwen Dovey”
I'm glad you liked it Brona. I've borrowed a copy from the library and am very excited to start it – in the next few days. I was planning on reading one story at a time- it's rare that I can read more than one short story on the go anyway. I can't wait to start.
Do you think Dovey deserverd the New Australian Writing award…or was the 'quirky idea' of writing about talking animals that swayed the judges?
I confess that I have never heard of the New Australian Writing Award, Nancy. I will have to research this.This book is so much more than talking animals. It's intentions could have made it an inaccessible literary homage, but Dovey manages the literary elements with a light touch. The writing AND the idea behind the book makes this a fascinating read from start to finish.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I did Louise 🙂
I just loved this book. Like you, I was wary of it, though in my case because I'm such a wimp about animals suffering. But it wsnlt like that, was it? The animals are so much wiser about life and about humans than the humans are themselves.. I found it clever, funny and touching, and not at all heavy-handed about its message. She;s a terrific writer. Have you read Blood Kin? And in response to ipsofacto above, yes, she absolutely did deserve the prize She's one of the few original new Australian voices.
No I haven't read Blood Kin, but I'm keen too now.I haven't heard of anyone yet who hasn't enjoyed Only the Animals – it seems to be appealing to lots of different readers.
Thank you for this review which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would never have thought about reading a book about talking animals, but now it is firmly on my 'to read' list.