Hermes and Apollo Walk into a Bar… And Fifteen Dogs End up with Human Intelligence.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Literary Fiction, Can Lit
Paperback, 171 pages
Published April 14th, 2015 by Coach House books
 

 

” I wonder”, said Hermes, “what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.”

” I’ll wager a year’s servitude,” answered Apollo, “that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.”

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

André Alexis’s contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of huma

 

n consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks.

I first heard of this book last year shortly after it was released. It was making the rounds on some of the blogs I follow that review literary fiction. Most, if not all, of the reviews I read were positive. Raves, even.
 
I was immediately intrigued, but, due to the premise, felt that this might not be my kind of book. Because of this, I put it out of my head for a while.
 
A bit later in the year, it was popping up all over the place. It was nominated for the Giller Prize (a prominent Canadian literary award), and then won. So, again, it was on my mind. Because of its Canadianness and its international acclaim (to some extent), I felt kind of obligated to read it. It’s pretty short though, so I thought, WHY NOT.
 
Belatedly, I decided to buy it, and finally got around to reading in January. Though it is a short book, it was not a quick read. 
 
This story is an apologue, or moral fable featuring animals. This was abundantly clear throughout the book. Here, Alexis ponders the human condition. He unpacks these ideas in a poignant tale with really solid characters (even though, yes, they are dogs). It’s an ambitious novel and well executed.

I can totally see why everyone seems to love this book. It has many things to recommend it. While I did enjoy reading Fifteen Dogs, and I’m glad that I did, I did kind of have to force myself at times to continue on. I think it’s just my personal preference. This book is blatantly a work of philosophy, the story a thinly veiled vessel through which to explore those ideas. I was never really one for philosophy. I guess you could say I like mine to be buried much deeper in the story. 
 
That being said, this book did make me stop and reflect on many of the ideas that Alexis explores. While I may not have enjoyed the reading of it as much as I would have liked, it was definitely a worthwhile read.
 
If the synopsis appeals to you and you enjoy philosophy, you’ll enjoy this.