25 August, 2014

Book Review: Only the Animals

From Goodreads: 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 mussel that died in Pearl Harbour. Each narrator also pays homage to an author who has written imaginatively about animals during much the same time span: Henry Lawson, Colette, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Tolstoy, G√ľnter Grass, Julian Barnes, and others.
These stories are brilliantly plotted, exquisitely written, inevitably poignant but also playful and witty. They ask us to consider profound questions. Why do animals shock us into feeling things we can't seem to feel for other humans? Why do animals allow authors to say the unsayable? Why do we sometimes treat humans as animals, and animals as humans? Can fiction help us find moral meaning in a disillusioned world?
Ceridwen Dovey is a prodigiously gifted storyteller, an insightful thinker, and a prose writer of great range. Each of the storylines is an opening to a new way of considering the nature of violence and the relationship between human and animal experiences of the world. Only The Animals will ask you to believe again, just for a moment, in the redemptive power of reading and writing fiction.


Thoughts: I read this as part of an online book group through That Book You Like. I follow the FB page and always up for a new reading adventure I jumped on board.
One of the things I love about book groups is they challenge you to read things you normally would not have read. This is very true for Only the Animals. I'm not an animal person. That's not to say I don't like animals, I do, but unlike a certain percentage of our population I don't see them as anything other than animals. I have pets and I love them dearly, but they are still animals. I've never drawn a parallel between my pets and my kids and I have pretty set ideas on how pets should fit into a family.  I've also never been a big fan of the anthropomorphisation of animals in stories. I just never really got why animals would think or act like humans.
All of this most probably goes towards explaining why this book missed the mark for me. Truth be told, without the book group motivation, I wouldn't have ever picked it up. The stories were ok, but I cannot stretch my disbelief enough to buy that animals are at all interested in our lives. The one exception would have been the elephant story - the story which not surprisingly had the least amount of human/ animal interaction.  
Only the Animals is something I would recommend only for those true, dyed in the wool animal lovers. For those I say go forth and enjoy. As for the rest of us, give it a miss.

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