Each weekday between now and the announcement of the 2015 Stella Prize shortlist on March 12, we’ll be turning the Stella spotlight on a different longlisted author and their book. Today is day three, and our featured book is…
Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin)
What the Stella Prize judges said:
In this collection of stories, closely linked by subject and theme, the souls of ten animals speak to the reader. All ten have died in some kind of human conflict: a fastidious cat in the Great War trenches, an oversexed mussel in Pearl Harbor, a philosophical parrot abandoned in war-torn Beirut. Ceridwen Dovey adds a further layer of meaning and allusion by linking each animal to one or more writers: the wartime cat is a pet of Colette’s, the ape and the tortoise come from stories by Kafka and Tolstoy respectively, and the camel is camped in the middle of a scenario by Henry Lawson.
For so artfully structured and layered a book, this collection of stories both gives out and calls up an intensity of feeling rarely encountered in such cleverly self-referential writing. The book both avoids sentimentality and obliges readers to consider closely their own attitude to animals. And perhaps then to reconsider it.
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…
About the author:
Ceridwen Dovey was born in South Africa and raised between South Africa and Australia. She studied social anthropology at Harvard as an undergraduate and received her Masters in social anthropology from New York University. Her debut novel, Blood Kin, was published in fifteen countries, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Award, and selected for the US National Book Foundation’s prestigious ‘5 Under 35’ honours list. The Wall Street Journal has named her as one of their ‘artists to watch.’ Her second book of fiction, Only the Animals, was described by The Guardian as a ‘dazzling, imagined history of humans’ relationship with animals.’ Ceridwen lives in Sydney.
What the critics said:
‘[A]n ambitious book with a fable-like surface, and a whole churning world beneath.’ – Romy Ash, The Guardian
‘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. ‘ – LS, The Saturday Paper
‘[A] perfectly integrated work of art brilliantly disguised as a collection of short stories.’ – Richard King, The Monthly
‘The energy and disturbing creativity of Only the Animals comes from a grand ambition to do nothing less than to make animals speak out of and reflect the many histories – literary, biological, scientific and human – they have occupied.’ – Delia Falconer, Sydney Review of Books
- Ceridwen’s website
- Catherine Armitage interviews Ceridwen for the Sydney Morning Herald
- ‘The pencil and the damage done’ – Ceridwen’s essay for The Monthly on the perverse attraction of autobiographical fiction
- Ceridwen discusses Only the Animals on ABC Radio National Books and Arts
- Caroline Baum interviews Ceridwen for Booktopia