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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

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

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 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

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    February 25, 2015


    256 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    April 23, 2014

    Penguin eBooks

    304 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo
Book Clubs
Only the Animals Book Club Notes

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

Awards and Recognition

  • Queensland Literary Awards
    Best Short Story Collection
  • NSW Premier's Literary Awards
    Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
  • Victorian Premier's Literary Award
    Best Fiction

Also by Ceridwen Dovey

In the Garden of the Fugitives
On JM Coetzee: Writers on Writers
Blood Kin


The Handmaid's Tale
To Kill A Mockingbird
Midnight's Children
A Gentleman in Moscow
Echo Burning
The Heart's Invisible Furies
The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time
The Girl on the Train
Dragonfly In Amber
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Swing Time
The Bear and The Nightingale
Ready Player One
The Trip of a Lifetime
Men Without Women
The Travelling Cat Chronicles
On Chesil Beach
The Light Between Oceans