Over drinks one day, Greek god Hermes wonders what it would be like if animals had human intelligence. His brother Apollo wagers if that were the case, they would be even unhappier than humans. And so a bet is made.
They make their way to a veterinary clinic in Toronto where a group of fifteen dogs have been boarded overnight and they grant them human consciousness and language. The dogs make their escape but very soon they are divided into two groups - those who resist the new ways and those who embrace them. As the dogs navigate the world with a new perspective, Hermes and Apollo watch as power struggles occur within the group and a couple of them set out on their own. Benjy moves from home to home never quite finding a place of his own, Prince becomes a poet much to the ire of some of his fellow dogs, and Majnoun forms an intricate relationship with a very understanding couple.
A contemporary apologue, Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis is a fresh and compelling meditation on the beauty and burdens of human intelligence.
Right from the start I was hooked. A book that starts out with Greek gods drinking in a bar? How could this not be interesting? The apologue isn’t something I’m necessarily drawn to (besides Animal Farm) though this one may have changed my mind. This is an emotional and thoughtful journey of a book.
Due to allergies, I’ve never been a dog person. I’ve just never had a chance to get to know them well enough to love them. And so when I heard dog lovers talking about how much they enjoyed this book, I wondered if I would connect with it on the same level. The answer is, I did. Right from the start, I found myself “choosing sides,” attracted to certain dogs and intensely disliking others. Hmm, just like humans. I think I became more attached to some of these dogs than I have human characters. And because this is a story about whether or not the dogs die happy, you go through a journey with all of the dogs that unfortunately always ends with death. It is heart-breaking for the reader.
I will admit, I felt intimidated about this book when I picked it up. I felt like it was going to be one of those deeply philosophical books that are more than just a good read (I felt like that with Alexis' previous novel Pastoral.) One that people would be discussing and dissecting. And there will probably be a lot of people doing that. But there was no need to feel intimidated, there is something about this book that every reader will enjoy.
Already nominated for the Toronto Book Awards and long listed for the Giller Prize, this is a novel deserving of all the accolades coming its way. I was fortunate enough to hear André Alexis read from it at the Word on the Street Festival this past weekend in Toronto and to also meet him and congratulate him on the nominations. This will be a very talked about novel this awards season and for good reason.