#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · book bingo · contemporary fiction · short stories

#Book Bingo 2018: ‘A book with non-human characters’ – Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey

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#Book Bingo 2018 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite blogger, Theresa Smith WritesHow does it work?  We have devised our own personalised book bingo card game. Twice a month, on the first and third Saturday of the month, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The book bingo card contains a total of 25 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year. To accommodate all the squares, we will be posting additional entries in the months of March and June, this will ensure that we stay on track to complete the book bingo game by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us. We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post or by visiting Theresa Smith Writes.


Exquisitely written, playful and poignant, Only the Animals is a remarkable only the animals smallliterary 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.

Review:

Imagine you embody the spirit of a bear in the year 1992 Bosnia, or a tortoise that lived its final days in space in the year 1968, or a dolphin based in Iraq in 2003. This is just an introduction to the strange, unusual and touching stories contained in Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey. Published in 2014, Only the Animals is a collection of ten short stories concerning animals directly involved in human conflict. Humanity in all its triumphs and failings is the central concern of this novel, where the reader receives a unique insight into these conflicts, via the varying perspectives of a collection of animals.

Ceridwen Dovey’s collection of stories encompass around a century of death, war zones and conflict. Narrated from the first person point of view of ten different animals, each animal’s perspective of a world event surrounding them is as different as they come. It opens the raw and very real existence of our world. We see humans at their very best and at rock bottom. Only the Animals reminds us that our world can be cruel and precarious. The prose in Only the Animals is refined, reflective and witty. This is a one of kind collection, highlighting Dovey’s unusual gift for embodying the lives of animals. It leaves a stain on the reader’s mind, prompting us to be more understanding of the plight of animals that quietly observe our happenings.

I freely admit that I have a tenuous relationship with short stories, I often get frustrated by the lack of narrative and character development. However, I have had Only the Animals on my bookshelf since the year it was published, I recall this book receiving plenty of accolades in the form of award shortlist and longlists at the time it came out. The cover of my version of the book also appealed to my reader’s heart. It features a series of lime green cats spread in all orifices of an elderly couple’s home. Like the book itself, this is an unusual cover, but still very intriguing. Many of these stories cover wars, so I was interested in seeing how Dovey would situate these stories. I found Only the Animals to be a mixture of insightful, poignant, humorous and a little off the grid.

My favourite of all ten of the stories was actually the opener. I really enjoyed the soul of the camel, conveying his life story in 1892 bush Australia, with references to Henry Lawson. This story read like a newsreel that I pictured as the camel spoke. It was measured, creative and engaging.  My attention didn’t wane at all during this story and the cat based in World War I France. I was also pleasantly surprised to find so many great literature references littered throughout Only the Animals. Many of the animals featured in this book have a profound connection to a well known storyteller or book (think Henry Lawson, Leo Tolstoy, Sylvia Plath and Julian Barnes). If you have a deep appreciation for our grand masters of the written word, this one will be sure to draw you in.

I also loved the added touch of the animal constellation images contained at the start of each short story opening page. It is an interesting touch and provides a good introduction to each story. Dovey is deliberate in her choice to balance different animal types, locations, time periods and situation types. Only the Animals does largely take place over the course of a century from start to finish. This book gives us an excellent glimpse into defining world events and how humanity must look in the eyes of a non human beholder. It is confronting, but Dovey is assured in her approach and what she has to say about the way in which we regard ourselves.

Only the Animals is my choice of book bingo 2018, to cover the square ‘a book with non- human characters’. While humans do feature in this story collection, it is the animals that hold the microphone in this book. Their song is creative, poignant, poetic and sad. The prose is tight but it does manage to convey as much as possible to the reader in a short time frame.

In Only the Animals, humanity is given the once over from the remarkable perspective of a collection of animals, in the capable hands of award winning author Ceridwen Dovey. Add Only the Animals to your reading list if you don’t mind being placed in the hands of an alternative storyteller. It is time to let the animals speak for themselves as we listen to their extraordinary lives.

Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey was published on April 23rd 2014. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

Learn more about the author of Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey here.

Only the Animals is book #138 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

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12 thoughts on “#Book Bingo 2018: ‘A book with non-human characters’ – Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey

  1. What a great idea Amanda! You should read The Shining by Stephen King, that book d some very scary scenes in it when I read it in the 80’s! You’ve done well with your blogging and reviewing this year – don’t know how you find the time to read so many books as well as working and your family!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janine. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of Book Bingo this year, it’s been great! I still have my scary square to go. I had planned to read a Stephen King (It) but I also haven’t read The Shining. Thanks for your recommendation 🙂 Thanks for your support of my blog and reviews, it means a lot. I’m struggling to keep up with the reading and reviews due to the end of year craziness and so many Perth based book events recently! Holidays are so close though 😉

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      1. My pleasure Amanda, I enjoy seeing what other people are reading – I cannot even read enough each month to produce my review newsletter for my attendants at my book cafe every month at work, so I’ve had permission from some book bloggers to share some of theirs, which is great! I wish we had taken more time to sit and chat in Perth at the event. If you are ever in Melbourne we will catch up and have a good chin wag! You are lucky to have so many events to attend in Perth, surprisingly we dont have a lot here in Melbourne. I’m becoming a bit of a go to person for author events at work though and already have one organised for next year with a couple of others in the wind, that’s about how close I get 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s great and thank you again. I really appreciate your feedback and interaction with a like minded reader! If you need help, I’m happy to let you use my reviews for your newsletter, I think it is a great idea. I would love to do author event planning for library visits! It is so great to hear you already have one organised and a couple of others in the pipeline too. Yes I do wish we had more time to chat at west coast too.

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  2. #Book Bingo 2018: ‘A book set more than 100 years ago’ – Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser

    Oh my word! What a beautiful novel. And that ending, I cried and cried. Such an amazing writer Dreiser is, this could be my all time favourite book.

    Searching for classics a while back I came across the novel, Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser, both title and author completely unknown to me, and I must say what a surprise I had seeing my maiden name in a book title, it’s not often I come across the surname Gerhardt and in a book title, well, never ever, clearly, I had to buy this novel. Jennie Gerhardt was just right for my book bingo square ‘a book set more than 100 years ago,’ as the story of Jennie Gerhardt was set in 1880.

    Jennie is sweet, selfless and a bit of a doormat but I loved her so, what an incredible character Dreiser created, despite facing many hardships she remained a loving and caring person. Uneducated and poor Jennie encounters two powerful men, Brander and Lester, and it’s with Lester she has a long and fragile relationship during a time when living together was socially unacceptable. Very well written with great insight into the human psyche.

    A tremendously brilliant book. Can’t recommend this highly enough.

    I love the cover of my novel which features a young woman in what looks like a wedding dress – so pretty.

    I will be looking into buying Sister Carrie and American Tragedy. I want to own Dreiser’s books.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Time to say goodbye to November Book Bingo Sue! Thanks for joining me for the ride and posting your wonderful reviews! I’m still amazed how you manage to introduce me to new authors… especially for this seasoned bookworm! So thank you! Onto December… boy it’s going to be big. Three book bingo and three a-z challenge books. I just finished my W book. It took my the whole weekend but it was worth it!

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  3. You’re welcome Amanda. Hahaha, yep, surprised you hey? I hope you decide to read the new authors I’ve introduced you to one day! Only two book bingo’s for December, Amanda lol. My review of my W book is up on Goodreads already, posted a few days ago. Can’t wait to see the book you chose for W.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You sure did and that’s great, I do love a book surprise! If I had more time and less books on my Everest of course I would check out your books! I’m still preparing to read the last two book bingo squares. I still really want to read IT but I don’t see me fitting this chunkster in! It may be onto my back up instead! I must check Goodreads for your W I must have missed it. My apologies. I’m preparing my W review as we speak! Look out for it tomorrow.

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  4. By the way I love your book choice for your book with non-human characters, sounds really awesome. I must check it out one day. I didn’t think I’d enjoy short stories but I do, they are so much fun, sometimes it’s nice to not worry about character development and the rest and just enjoy it for what it is. Love your review too of this book!

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