Wonderfully weird and profoundly witty, Australian writer Dovey (Blood Kin, 2008) recounts a history of 20th-century human catastrophe in 10 short stories, each told by an animal who was there.
In “Pigeons, a Pony, the Tomcat, and I,” a house cat—inadvertently separated from her beloved bohemian owner—prowls the trenches of the western front, giving comfort to the soldiers and recounting adventures from better days. “Hundstage,” one of the eerier tales in the bunch, follows Himmler’s dog, exiled in the Polish forest. In war-ravaged Mozambique, twin elephants come of age listening to tales of their ancestors. Not every story is so grim, however, and while all of them are dark, some are tragically hilarious, brilliant in their absurdity. In one, a Kerouac-ian mussel seeks adventure and meaning on the hull of a ship. In another, a Russian tortoise escapes from its hermit owner, is adopted by Leo Tolstoy’s daughter, becomes the pet of Virginia Woolf in London (in a section called “A Terrarium of One’s Own”), and ultimately returns to the motherland, where she's launched into orbit as part of the Soviet Space Program. A military dolphin, sent by the U.S. Navy to fight enemy divers in Iraq, writes posthumous letters to Sylvia Plath. In the hands of another writer, this would all be hopelessly twee. The inner monologues of animals, all of them doomed by human tragedy, is high-risk terrain: too earnest and it’s sentimental, too moralistic and it’s preachy, too clownish and it’s a cartoon. But Dovey’s stories, at once charming and haunting, are something else altogether. “Absorbing” is not quite the right word for them—their poetic oddness keeps them at arm’s length—but they are intoxicating nonetheless.
As unsettling as they are beautiful, these quietly wise stories wedge themselves into your mind—and stay there.