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 human consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks.
Some thoughts on this book:
I liked this book. But I have issues with it. Alexis played the fable a bit too safe. The writing was beautiful, the tone well-tuned, the story full of promise. But, in the end, there was no original thought on the human-dog bond — nothing well said about what makes a dog a dog or what makes a human a human…or what makes intelligence intelligence.
There was no exploration of what it was like to be spayed or neutered. Humans aren’t often un-sexed, so this would have been interesting to actually get into. All the dogs are quite intact, it seems. It was quite illogical that 0 out of 15 dogs wouldn’t have been altered in some way (by humans). Not even an ear trimming, a tail trimming, or an etc. is explored (i.e., the dogs’ reactions to it).
And, what is more, the female dog never gets pregnant, apparently. Puppies/babies and how they affect those with intelligence would have been interesting to read about from a dog perspective (like, would they ruin dog lives as they do human lives? ahahaha…).
The dogs were given the ability to see color, but not to speak properly. Seeing color is no sign of intelligence. There are colorblind humans, so this bothered me. Why not vocal cords? It seems Alexis just wanted to create obstacles for his characters to overcome. It was contrived. The story could have moved forward much more quickly if Alexis had just altered (*cringes* …what’s a better word?) the dogs that way as well.
The last half of this book is arguably a love story — one where the dog Majnoun falls in love with his human female owner. Granted, the relationship is a bit more complicated than that and I don’t have the library book any more to pick out passages to support it, but that’s what it felt like. But for me it didn’t fit the fable mold, because there was no message to be gained from that part. (If there was a message, can you tell it to me?). Was it a statement on race? On how sex shouldn’t be the main point in love? About slaves and masters? Or just about friendship?
Might as well read it, because it is so short. And it has dogs. And gods. And pretty passages.
Other reviews I agree with: