Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Only the Animals” as Want to Read:
Only the Animals
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Only the Animals

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  1,362 ratings  ·  196 reviews
From award-winning novelist Ceridwen Dovey, a collection of linked short stories as innovative and beautifully written as Nam Le's The Boat.

Ten tales are told by the souls of animals killed in human conflicts in the past century or so, from a camel in colonial Australia to a cat in the trenches in World War I, from a bear starved to death during the siege of Sarajevo to a
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 23rd 2014 by Hamish Hamiliton / Penguin Australia (first published 2014)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Only the Animals, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Only the Animals

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.72  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,362 ratings  ·  196 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Only the Animals
Sally Howes
I have never been a big fan of short stories - I have always liked the idea of them more than the actuality. This is the book that changed my mind. ONLY THE ANIMALS takes a uniquely interesting premise - a collection of short stories narrated by the souls of different animals who have experienced the great man-made conflicts, atrocities, and disasters of the past century or so - and fully delivers on its great potential. Every single story is intensely insightful and moving, quietly but emphatic ...more
Michele Harrod
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Oh my. I would have loved for this book to never end, because of course, I would happily commune with the animals until the day I die. And sadly, there are just so many stories to be told of how humans have affected, caused, instigated or influenced the death of an animal. I can't quite put into words what an emotional rollercoaster this novel was for me. To be treated to an author who has made the assumption that animals have a far greater intelligence and insight than us, and yet still retain ...more
Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews
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
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Why didn't I read this sooner?

10 very compelling stories told, posthumously, by animals involved in human conflict.

Sel, a mussel, riffing on life on the road ala Kerouac, ending up in Pearl Harbour. A tortoise, companion of Tolstoy's daughter, Virginia Woolf and George Orwell before being sent to the moon as part of the Cold War space race. Himmler's German Shepherd, Kafka's Red Peter, a camel accompanying Henry Lawson on his famous trek from Hungerford to Bourke, a dolphin writing a letter to
Robert Lukins
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
A human on animals on humans; thoughtful, and there's a tortoise in space.

Initially animals ruled our planet.
Humans arrived much later ie. human apes.
Now animals are totally at the mercy of Humans.
Note the 10,000 race horses which are shot every year
for failing to win.*

Animals are or have been used
to work,
to produce food or be food,
for fun,
for the advancement of science,
for making money
or as a fashion accessory,dead or alive.

Free animals,called "wild", have escaped a use.
But they are eligible for the zoo,for hunting or tourism.
Or their H
A really interesting premise but just too way out there for me. Half the time, I had no idea what was going on. I liked the bear, the dog and the tortoise stories best.
Abandoned, in part because my heart couldn't take the constant animal deaths, and in part because this is overwritten wank.
Reindert Van Zwaal
I was really disappointed by this collection of short stories. I bought this one because of the topic of the book, the cruelty of humans towards animals during conflicts, drew me in. However, I better had not. Most of the stories were vague, with strange twists and stories within stories. Then somehow the animal died and this was supposed to have a meaning and something to do with the cruelty of humans. However, this was mostly not the case and completely out of context.

Only the stories of the
Sune Borkfelt
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sune by: Laura McKay
I initially started reading this because I was looking for short stories on animals to use in teaching a BA English course, but am now thinking I should have simply put the book on the syllabus in its entirety (maybe I'll do that next time).

Wonderfully written, thought-provoking, at times funny and sometimes emotional, the stories woven together in this collection are truly enjoyable in so many ways, and the premise (deceased nonhuman animals' stories told - most often by themselves from the aft
Madhulika Liddle
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Literature. Stars and constellations. Human conflict, war. Animals. Death.

These are some of the recurrent themes in Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, a very unusual collection of ten short stories. Each story is ‘written’ by the soul of an animal that dies as a result of human conflict. Some literally, like the US military-trained dolphin that dies in action in Iraq in 2003, or the mussel—out for an adventure, having journeyed a long, long way, who anchors himself to a US naval ship that steam
Melbourne Library Service
Sep 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is an unusual take on animal-human encounters, both playful and serious.

Ten animal souls tell the stories of their lives and deaths in human conflicts of the past century, but they also reflect on, and pay homage to, authors who have written about animals in some shape or form during the same time span.

It starts with a camel sitting across the campsite from the great Australian author Henry Lawson as he tells ghost stories, and ends with a parrot named Barnes (after the English autho
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was blown away by the imagination and creativity in these stories. I'm a recent convert to short fiction, and I think maybe I've been spoiled by having discovered some masters of the genre early on in my exploration. By using ten animal narrators in this collection, Ceridwen Dovey holds a mirror up to ourselves and asks what it means to be human. It's a premise that, in the hands of a less experienced writer, could easily have fallen flat or come across as twee or child-like. But there are no ...more
Jesse Coulter
Dec 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed-books
I’m not usually much one for short stories, but I found the premise of this so interesting (the awesome photography on the jacket was what initially lured me in) that I had to give it a go. I’m very glad I did, because this book has a lot to give.

It took me a while to read- I think this was a combination of the nature of short stories being a bit stop/start, and me having a lot on at the time. This is certainly not to say anything of the quality of the writing- Dovey has a knack for provoking gr
Blodeuedd Finland
This is a book about animals. And they all get a chapter of their own.

The first one about a camel, well not a lot happened there.

The second one about a cat was better, and sad! A cat at the Western front. Meeting another cat, thinking about the owner, all while surviving.

Then we had such a creepy tale about a chimpanzee writing letter to the wife of the man who trained him to act human. I mean it was really good, but creepy.

The next story was about a dog, whose owner was into Hinduism, Buddhism
Angela Meyer
Each animal in this book is given a soul and story so complex (as are the times through which they live). The style of each story changes, often influenced by writers that feature in the animals' lives - humorous, beatific, melancholy. I was most moved by the tortoise who journeys from Tolstoy to space, via the Bloomsbury group, and the dolphin who contemplates connections (across species and in one's own family group) and tells of her military responsibilities in a letter to Sylvia Plath. Dovey ...more
Sandy Papas
Dec 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Quiet an extraordinary book, although not as gripping as I was hoping. Stories told by Himmlers German Shephard, a twin African elephant, Tolstoys tortoise and a camel in the Australian outback ( with Lawson ) are all quite fascinating but there are a couple of slow tedious ones as well. Still, it's a unique and fascinating insight into the role animals have played in so many significant events. A must for animal lovers everywhere.
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wonderfully inventive, these stories contain fascinating gems of insight into the human condition; all the more startling by being delivered by animals. The characters in Ceridwen Dovey’s tales are anything but lowly animals, they are exceptional, intelligent, funny and highly entertaining. My top favourites in the collection are: Red Peter’s Little Lady (Soul of Chimpanzee), Somewhere Along the Line the Pearl Would Be Handed to Me (Soul of Mussel), and Plautus: A Memoir of My Years on Earth and ...more
Martin Rowe
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dovey’s conceit is clever and well-executed: to investigate the role of the animal in the human imagination, by connecting animals written about by humans, or telling stories in the style of certain writers, or presenting a biography of the human through the eyes of the animal with whom he or she lived. In the case of Collette’s cat, the Beat Poet mussels, and Kafka’s chimpanzee (Red Peter), this format works to illuminate the writers’ art and showcase Dovey’s considerable skills at pastiche. Ot ...more
Alice Minns
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An astonishing and original work that blew my mind a little bit more with every story. Beautiful prose with ideas and concepts that are executed flawlessly.
Tricia Greig
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book had a profound emotional effect on me, and really solidified refusal to eat meat or have caged birds.
Each time I revisit this book I’m in tears.
Beautiful. Haunting. Human Betrayal and cruelty. But also love and forgiveness.
Loved this book so much.
Emily Parker
Wasn't my favourite book but for a literature book it was pretty good. My favourite stories were the tortoise one and the dog one.
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a quiet book. Quiet like libraries were in the 50s, where the only sounds were muted footsteps as people moved from room to room, the ruffle of pages being turned, an occasional cough, perhaps the quiet thud of a book put on a table.

Perhaps that's because the voices are those of animals. They don't speak directly to us. Their voices are like the wind. It passes us and we don't notice.

All of these stories concern the life and death of animals associated with an author. It may be a very d
Apr 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
First and Foremost, a big shout out to The Reading Room and Penguin Books Australia for my free review copy. Thanks folks, you did not disappoint.

Only the Animals is, perhaps, one of the most unusual collections of short stories that I have read in quite some time. Each story is told from the perspective of a different animal and tells a little bit about their lives (and their deaths,) and unique relationships with humans, using various points in modern history as a backdrop. The opening story i
Michael Livingston
Aug 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I took a while to adjust to the idea of this book. Each story is told from the perspective of an animal, with a full and human-like consciousness - you have to let go of the idea that the animals are really animals, they're observers of human interactions with complex feelings and thoughts. After a couple of stories I mentally adjusted to the whole shtick and just went along with it - by the end I was completely swept up by these stories: a Kerouac-inspired muscle heading west for adventure, Tol ...more
Ten chapters featuring ten different animals/birds/molluscs/reptiles ranging from an elephant to a mussel provide us with an interesting view of various periods of recent human exploration or conflict.

Dovey starts each chapter with a quote from an author that has previously written about the animal/bird/mollusc/reptile. The chapter then is written about during some historical event but in the style of the author that had been quoted.

Incredibly creative and intelligent writing that gives the rea
Rachael (shereadsshenoms)
Sep 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ooft! I had to sit in silence after a few of these stories, worried I'd fall into neverending sobs if I allowed myself to move. Soul of Cat, Soul of Dog, Soul of Dolphin, my aching soul!

I don't think I can truly appreciate this for the wonder it is just as I'm not as familiar with all the literature it references, and for this reason it was a slower read for me, but I'm glad I managed to plod through a few chapters at a time.

Incredible lessons on empathy. Stunning writing. Just such an achieve
A collection of short stories, told by animals, just before their deaths.

It was surprisingly unsentimental, which gave many stories a gravity and impact that was unexpected.

My favourite stories would be the first (a cat in the trenches of WW1), and a later story about bear trapped in the zoo in Sarajevo during the civil war.

Some stories I found a little dry or boring, but the ones that captured me held me totally under their spell.
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: animal lovers and people who don't know they're animal lovers
A knockout book of ten short stories -- each from the perspective of an animal at a specific place and time in history retelling his or her life up until death caused either directly or indirectly by human beings and human conflict. One of the most powerful, aching, gorgeously-crafted books I've read in a long time. I would have liked to savor this more. For readers who loved Gravedigger in Tania James' The Tusk That Did the Damage.
Dasha M
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An amazing collection of short stories, and I am usually reluctant to read such collections. Here the extraordinary lives of animals - famous and often forgotten to history - are told with pathos and empathy. The author has incredible skill: who else could make the life of a MOLLUSC as interesting as the odysseys of Kerouac?
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Like a House on Fire
  • Ariel
  • Foreign Soil
  • The Longest Memory
  • Dark Roots
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Bom Dia, Verônica
  • The 7 Stages of Grieving
  • The Lieutenant
  • The Sunday Story Club
  • Hippolytus
  • A Taste of Honey
  • Death of a River Guide
  • The Golden Age
  • Yes No Maybe So
  • Sheerwater
  • Ransom
See similar books…
Ceridwen Dovey grew up in South Africa and Australia, studied as an undergraduate at Harvard, and now lives in Sydney. Her first novel, Blood Kin, was translated into fifteen languages and selected for the US National Book Foundation’s prestigious ‘5 Under 35’ award. J.M. Coetzee called it ‘A fable of the arrogance of power beneath whose dreamlike surface swirl currents of complex sensuality.' Her ...more

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
26 likes · 14 comments
“But it prompted me to remember something, a conversation I’d overheard between Officers Bloomington and Mishin about the persecution complex that afflicts most humans, and made me wonder: Why do you feel persecuted by us? From the mild feeling of being teased without your consent all the way to the other extreme of the terror of recognition, that we might expose you for what you truly are. What use is a sense of self if all it does is make you feel that self to be constantly under siege?” 1 likes
More quotes…