Only the Animals

By Ceridwen Dovey Penguin Books

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…

Ceridwen Dovey

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 and shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Award. Her collection of stories, Only the Animals, was longlisted for the 2015 Stella Prize. Ceridwen lives in Sydney.

Judges' report

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.

Further reading


‘[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