Ceridwen Dovey

Mothertongues by Ceridwen Dovey and Eliza Bell

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June 2022, no. 443

At the beginning of 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write (2014), author, mother, and playwright Sarah Ruhl notes: ‘At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing, and much to do with life. And life, by definition, is not an intrusion.’ Ceridwen Dovey and Eliza Bell’s Mothertongues embraces, embodies even, this collapse of the boundaries between living and writing. Rather than extolling the proverbial ‘room of her own’, Bell and Dovey are asking us to heed the kinds of knowledge that come from being embedded in the everyday. 

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Since the publication of her acclaimed first novel, Blood Kin (2007), Ceridwen Dovey has established herself as an intelligent author who typically probes what it means, and might mean in the future, to be human. Equally au fait with literary analysis, politics, and science, Dovey has since 2007 published several more books of fiction, two non-fiction books, and numerous essays, contributing regularly to The Monthly and The New Yorker. Now she has extended her range in fiction to a lighter mode, focusing on contemporary life and the pleasures of storytelling. Publishing in audio form has worked well in signalling Dovey’s new voice: Life After Truth was first published through the Australian and New Zealand Audible Originals program in November 2019, and her novel Once More with Feeling was released as an Audible Original in May 2020.

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During much of my childhood, my mother was bravely and passionately insisting on teaching postcolonial African literature to (mostly) white university students in apartheid South Africa. I was probably way too young to fully understand it, but Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga’s 1988 début novel, Nervous Conditions, was one of the books my mother was teaching, and it had a huge impact on me.

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To complement the reviews and commentaries in our Environment issue, we invited a number of writers and scholars to nominate a book that will give readers a better appreciation of the environment.

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To imagine this possessiveness in voyeuristic terms – something I find creepy with its note of control or ridicule – strikes me as a way to manage both the erotic charge of reading and the uncomfortable distance between the work we host in our heads (and hearts, if you imagine words, as poet Paul Celan did ...

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I was never brave enough to visit Pompeii, partly due to an overactive imagination that combined a sense of the ferocity of Vesuvius’s blast in 79 CE and the volcano’s ongoing muttering with thoughts of the city’s Roman residents, cauterised in the eruption: outstretched hands; a dog expiring mid-roll; a mother and her child ...

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Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey

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May 2014, no. 361

One of the animal narrators in Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, a dolphin named Sprout who is writing to Sylvia Plath, quotes Nobel Prize-winner Elias Canetti: ‘whenever you observe an animal closely, you feel as if a human being sitting inside were making fun of you.’ The ten animal souls whose thematically interwoven stories Dovey recounts do not simply ‘make fun’ of humans (far from it), but Canetti’s image of the ‘human sitting inside’ nevertheless provides an apposite introduction to Dovey’s project as a whole. Here each animal protagonist is an unashamedly literary, anthropomorphised invention, with physical and behavioural characteristics of its species grafted on in service to its creator’s startlingly original and imaginative design.

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