Saturday, October 18, 2014

Only the Animals, by Ceridwen Dovey

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Ceridwen Dovey's ten animal stories merge animal and literary research with an empathetic imagination to create this unique collection.

In this mesmerising and highly original collection of ten stories, Australian author Ceridwen Dovey weaves a series of fabulist tales, written in the voices of animals who have died in wartime. To add further to the unusualness of these tales, the animals have relationships, either directly or indirectly with, famous writers.

There is a story about French novelist Collette and her cat. In another a fascinating personal history is given of a tortoise who passes through the hands of Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and Tom Stoppard, finally ending up as part of the Russian space program and circling the moon. A dolphin that is trained by the US Navy to be used in the 2003 Iraq war writes a letter to Sylvia Plath.

These scenarios may all sound like they’re straining credulity too far, yet many are based on true events. The temptation when reading Only the Animals it to reach for the keyboard and Google the details. Inspiration for the collection came from a true story Covey was told about her professor’s parrot: the bird became so traumatised seeing the collapse of the twin towers on September 11, that it self-mutilated. Covey was so moved by the bird’s distress that it prompted the first written piece for Only the Animals, which appears as the last story in the collection.

It’s quite a feat to write from the perspective of so many different animals without sounding mawkish, sentimental or just plain weird. Dovey’s skill here is to merge animal and literary research with an empathetic imagination. The animal voices draw you into their personal lives and dramas, inspiring you to think about all sorts of animal problems never before considered. Dovey’s short animal lives are funny, tragic and playful. Finishing the book, you do feel as though you’ve been on the most extraordinary journey, seeing and experiencing things you never usually would.

Only the Animals, by Ceridwen Dovey. Published by Penguin Books. ISBN: 9781926428581  RRP: $29.99

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