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  • Published: 25 February 2015
  • ISBN: 9780143573012
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $19.99

Only the Animals




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.

  • Published: 25 February 2015
  • ISBN: 9780143573012
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $19.99

About the author

Ceridwen Dovey

Ceridwen is a Sydney-based writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and in-depth essays and profiles. Born in South Africa, she grew up between South Africa and Australia, went to Harvard University on scholarship as an undergraduate, and did her postgraduate studies in social anthropology at New York University.Her debut novel, Blood Kin, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Award and selected for the U.S. National Book Foundation’s prestigious "5 Under 35" honours list. Her second book, Only the Animals, won the inaugural 2014 Readings New Australian Writing Award, the Steele Rudd Award for a short story collection in the Queensland Literary Awards, and was co-winner of the People's Choice Award for Fiction at the 2015 NSW Premier's Literary Awards. The book is on the VCE Literature Text selection (for high school students in Victoria).Her 2018 novel, In the Garden of the Fugitives, described by The New York Times as "an elegant...impressive, thought-provoking novel," was published around the world and longlisted for the 2019 ABIA Awards. Her memoir-biography, On J.M. Coetzee: Writers on Writers, was published in 2018 as part of Black Inc.'s acclaimed Writers on Writers series. In 2019, Penguin Random House published a collected edition of Ceridwen's profiles of people in unusual careers, Inner Worlds Outer Spaces: The Working Lives of Others. Ceridwen regularly contributes essays and articles to many publications, including newyorker.com, the Monthly, WIRED, the Smithsonian Magazine, and Good Weekend. Her essays have been selected for The Best Australian Science Writing 2020, The Best Australian Science Writing 2019, The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018, and The Best Australian Essays 2015. She has a special interest in social justice and environmental ethics in outer space.Her latest novel, Life After Truth, is forthcoming from Penguin Random House in November, 2020.

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Praise for Only the Animals

The most original, surprising and inspired book I read this year.

Stephen Romei, Weekend Australian

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

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

The emotional heat here is pitched at Bunsen burner blue — hard and clear, without a flicker of showy sentiment. The results are sometimes profound, and always powerfully disconcerting.

Geordie Williamson, Weekend Australian

Wholly extraordinary.

Michelle de Kretser

I was unprepared for the anarchic brilliance of this wonderful book . . . . Only the Animals is a glorious imaginative leap, not into the minds of animals, but into our own . . . The most successful of the collection . . . is layered and astonishing and far and away the best thing I've read this year . . . Only the Animals makes much contemporary fiction seem stodgy and grey.

The Saturday Paper

Extraordinary . . . An audacious work of the imagination . . . 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)

Remarkable . . . 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 . . . hovering somewhere between heartbreak and hopefulness, wisdom and wonderment.

Andrew Fuhrmann, Canberra Times

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

A masterpiece . . . Dovey is a writer of vast imagination and intelligence . . . Halfway through the Kerouacian story of a mussel hitching rides around the coast of America you realise that you are in the hands of a genius.

Margot Lloyd, The Advertiser (Adelaide)

Startlingly original and imaginative . . . Dovey is a natural storyteller, and her skilled use of animal 'others' to highlight discrete aspects of human conflicts throws the obscured, terrifying whole into stark relief.

Australian Book Review

Dovey hits exactly the right note . . . each animal is a joy to encounter. These storytellers are smart and thoughtful, self-aware in a playful, endearing way . . . This is fiction at its very imaginative best.

Bronte Coates, Readings Monthly

Marvellous . . . I was sceptical about this book when I picked it up, but I was proven wrong . . . Highly recommended.

Daniel O’Brien, Good Reading

In this highly original collection of short stories, Dovey combines social anthropology, animal activism and a range of literary techniques to deliver an intriguing, thought-provoking examination of what it means to be human.

Herald Sun

We challenge you not to get caught up.

Elle magazine

Surely one of the boldest Australian short-story collections in recent years . . . Here is a rare beast – a work of fiction that is not only richly imaginative, but also intelligent, ambitious and universal in theme. Ceridwen Dovey has created a book that wears its literary antecedents – Kafka, Colette, Woolf, Coetzee – lightly, but with each story she proves that Only the Animals belongs in this sort of company.

Readings New Australian Writing Award judges' comments

As layered as an onion, Only the Animals will repay the careful reader tenfold . . . Powerful, almost mythic, and deeply disturbing.

Michelle Thomas, South Coast Register

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 . . . Exquisitely written, playful and poignant, Only the Animals is a remarkable literary achievement by one of our brightest young writers. An animal's-eye view of humans at our brutal, violent worst and our creative, imaginative best, it asks us to find our way back to empathy not only for animals, but for other people, and to believe again in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.

PRH, PRH

Awards & recognition

Queensland Literary Awards

Winner  •  2014  •  Best Short Story Collection

NSW Premier's Literary Awards

Shortlisted  •  2015  •  Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

Victorian Premier's Literary Award

Shortlisted  •  2015  •  Best Fiction

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Only the Animals book club notes

Book clubs will see history from a different perspective in these short stories from Ceridwen Dovey.

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