Only the Animals

Only the Animals

By  Ceridwen Dovey

An animal's-eye view of humans at our brutal worst and our creative best, Only the Animals asks us to believe again in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.

Exquisitely written, playful and poignant, Only the Animals is a remarkable literary achievement by the award-winning Ceridwen Dovey, one of our brightest young writers.

Perhaps only the animals can tell us what it is to be human.

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 . . .

An animal's-eye view of humans at our brutal worst and our creative best, Only the Animals asks us to believe again in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.

'The most original, surprising and inspired book I read this year.' Stephen Romei, Weekend Australian

'An audacious work of the imagaination . . . Funny, tragic, smart, arch, poignant and playful all at once.' Catherine Armitage, The Age

'Dazzling . . . An ambitious book with a fable-like surface, and a whole churning world beneath.' Romy Ash, The Guardian (Australia)

'Only the Animals is mesmerizing and exhilarating, funny and moving. It has elements of strangeness and greatness, like Kafka. Dovey's exquisitely drawn creatures grapple nobly with their animal natures, a genius point of view from which to illuminate how we humans – ostensibly conscious and verbal – are trapped in ours. This book feels like a major mind announcing itself.' Anna Funder

'Wholly extraordinary.' Michelle de Kretser

'The life stories related by these very civilized animals are in some cases touching (the elephant), in others amusing (the mussel), but all are absorbing. They are transmitted to us with a light touch and no trace of sentimentality.' J.M. Coetzee

'An audacious work of the imagination . . . An extraordinary series of fabulist tales . . . The yarns are funny, tragic, smart, arch, poignant and playful all at once.' The Saturday Age

'The emotional heat here is pitched at Bunsen burner blue – hard and clear, without a flicker of showy sentiment – while the main criticism that might be launched against such stories, that they traffic in a naive anthropomorphism, is checked at every move by a rigorous deployment of contemporary developments in animal psychology and neuroscience. The best of the stories are not only smart in a modern, scientific sense, however; they keep one foot in the older, folkloric tradition of animal stories, and in a wonder that is as old as our species . . . What Dovey ventures is to rescue animals from the cultural margins. To be seen by animals is a profound inversion of the situation where it is we who do the watching. The results are sometimes profound, and always powerfully disconcerting.' Weekend Australian

'I was unprepared for the anarchic brilliance of this wonderful book. Dovey persuades us of her characters as she teeters on the edge of sentimentality, but in the next breath she dances back and Only the Animals becomes a kind of conversation that anticipates the reader's - at least, this reader's – response and parries it . . . it is an examination: there is palpable restraint on the page and Dovey draws no conclusions. Only the Animals is a glorious imaginative leap, not into the minds of animals, but into our own. The idea that fiction can be both playful and intelligent should not be so surprising . . . It's layered and astonishing and far and away the best thing I've read this year. Dovey has a particular talent for mixing exuberance and melancholy in the one story without tonal jerks or jars, and this story sparkles on the page . . . It's beautiful writing, but besides that, it's enthralling. Most writers don't generate this much genuine emotion over the course of an entire career… It's clever work, but it's never tricky for the sake of it. This kind of writing is the fictional equivalent of walking a high wire without a net . . . 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 . . . To get away with that kind of self-referential nudging, the work has to be very good and the writer, very brave. Only the Animals makes much contemporary fiction seem stodgy and grey, and Dovey has put everything on the line here. It's a remarkable achievement.' The Saturday Paper

'Only the Animals doesn't behave like a novel. It slips between categories . . . [and] both defies and celebrates the possibilities of the form . . . it is an ambitious book with a fable-like surface, and a whole churning world beneath . . . [confirming] Dovey's talent . . . [the book is] heartbreaking and riveting . . . painfully beautiful . . . That the prose still sparkles, and that the stories pull at the heart, despite the somewhat awkward, weighty premise, is a remarkable achievement . . . Dovey voices the uncomfortable, she speaks the unspeakable, through the shifting mouthpiece of these animals.' Romy Ash, for The Guardian

'A suite of associatively linked stories that dares this imaginative leap. It is a haunted book . . . [with] a subtler play of awareness and self-awareness . . . [and] a bravura flair for pastiche . . . Only the Animals is a form of lyrical anthropology, a partial but generous approach to the changing significances of animals in our literary Imaginations . . . This is a book of consistently good stories deftly told, full of drama and emotion . . . [with] an attractive unity of purpose that suggests more than the sum of its parts, a greater consciousness, perhaps, hovering somewhere between heartbreak and hopefulness, wisdom and wonderment.' Canberra Times

'Dovey is a natural storyteller . . . The author's portrayals of human–animal interactions evoke images of lasting beauty and power . . . Whether you agree with Dovey's approach to humans and animals or not, no one interested in either will be sorry to have read this book.' Sam Cadman, Australian Book Review

'A strange and beautiful work . . . Each story is self-contained, but each is far richer – in terms of emotional and philosophical resonance – for its proximity to the others. To put it another way: Only the Animals is a perfectly integrated work of art brilliantly disguised as a collection of short stories.' Richard King, The Monthly

'Dovey has created a masterpiece, a tapestry of voices so strong that it's impossible not to mourn when each story comes to an end . . . At no point do these creature-characters ring false . . . Dovey is a writer of vast imagination and intelligence . . . [managing] to shed new light on these voices and their ideas . . . Halfway through the Kerouac-ian story of a mussel hitching rides around the coast of America you realise that you are in the hands of a genius. Sure, you'll laugh, but the astonishing thing is that you will empathise, too.' Adelaide Advertiser

'We challenge you not to get caught up.' Elle

Format & Editions



February 25, 2015

Penguin (AU Adult)

RRP $19.99

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April 23, 2014

Penguin eBooks (AU Adult)

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Also by Ceridwen Dovey

Awards & Recognition


NSW Premier's Literary Awards



Victorian Premier's Literary Award



Queensland Literary Awards