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.