I still have a ton of free books from BEA to get through, but I had to divert my attention to this Giller Prize winner because it sounded so interesting.
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis follows the lives of a group of dogs after Apollo and Hermes grant them intelligence to settle a bet over the likeliness of animals being happy with human intelligence. The pack escapes the vet’s office and struggles to understand how to behave with their new-found knowledge. Conflicts arise as the dogs embrace or reject their new abilities.
This book has an intriguing premise, which is why I picked it up from the Kobo online store. I’m not really much for philosophy, but the simple premise made me willing to give the novel a chance.
The simplicity of this tale is actually where I think its strength lies. Alexis’ straightforward language allows the novel to explore a wide range of metaphysical questions without being dull or overly academic. In fact, the novel had a story book or fable-like feel to it.
Among the most interesting questions that arise from the dogs’ struggles are those that deal with “essence” or what makes a dog a dog, societal organization, and language. Because the fifteen dogs are dogs with human intelligence, they act as both stand ins for humanity and observers of humanity, inviting readers to question and consider along with the pack.
Even with all this philosophy and observation, the books still manages to include some lovely (and some not-so-lovely) relationships. Majnoun’s relationship with Nira is perhaps the most interesting, because it does deal with the questions of hierarchy/societal organization. Even though they have disagreements over who is superior at times, Nira and Majnoun form a close relationship based on mutual respect for each other’s intelligence. Though far from the average human/dog relationship, the loyalty they have towards one another is very much what has been portrayed as the ideal relationship between dogs and humans.
Also, the poems in the novel are worth celebrating. Prince is one of the dogs who embraces language and he writes poems, even if he’s the only one who can understand them. Besides the contemplation of language that this inspires, these poems are cool because each one is a “poem for a dog” and contains a dog’s name. I only noticed one of the names while I was reading, but I went back just to see – what a fun little bonus they are!
Final verdict: Definitely not your average dog story. Unique, thoughtful, and entertaining for sure. Might even be worth rereading a time or two, just to see if you get everything there is to get out of it.