Book Review: Fifteen Dogs

The synopsis:


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.

Qualms:

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?

Verdict:

Might as well read it, because it is so short. And it has dogs. And gods. And pretty passages.

Other reviews I agree with:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1315463745?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Philosophy, Empathy, Poetry and Talking Dogs, minus the gimmick: ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis [Review]

#BLAThoughtOfTheDay: Only dipping your toe

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Book Review: THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton: When robots take over – take over a story, that is.

(This is really for people who have read the book. Semi-spoilers throughout).

There is quite a lot of repetitive exploration/dialog in the book—where some topics are reexamined over and over just to get to a new point about said topic. That could have been chiseled down, but I get why it was done. This book deals with the Socratic method, after all.

The robots—or, as they are called in the novel, the “workers”—seem to be explored way too much. They are a subplot that wasn’t necessary. I found it hard to believe that a goddess (Athena), who could see and visit the future, wouldn’t foresee robots becoming self-aware at one point. Sure, gods could (theoretically) overlook things, but… Really, the whole robot plot point could have been removed from the book entirely and it would have made more sense (I mean, keep the robots, but ignore them becoming self-aware),

They seemed like just an excuse to talk about slavery when, really, they could have been written in is as normal mindless machines that, when they wore out, the iron and bronze children could take their place. They were only necessary for a couple of years, theoretically. No need to introduce AI into the mix. If you were going to do that then why not make an excuse to talk about animal rights in the novel, which was never done). This is why I took off one star on goodreads, because it just wasn’t fun or necessary to read about.

Also, Apollo could have predicted the thing about the robots too. He talks repeatedly about the future. He knows fancy words like “postpartum depression” and that we explore space in the future. I found it EXTREMELY hard to accept this fact about the robots. Not that I wouldn’t care if robots did become self-aware (and of course they deserve their rights acknowledged). I’m saying Jo Walton could have made Athena find some less complicated robots. Or, better yet, Athena could have used “magic beings” to be the servants until the children got old enough to be the workers. Hell, food could have magically appeared to them until they got enough children who learned to grow it and prepare it.

…Now that I think about it there was a surprising lack of “magic” in the book. Not that it’s a bad thing, but Walton could have used it to her advantage more, clearly.

The real plot of the novel was “Can Plato’s ‘Just City’ work?” but when the robot subplot appeared everything began to be contrived narratively. But beyond this, everything story-wise was fine. HOWEVER, it may bother some people that there was no real climax and resolution; sure, Athena was just as interested in seeing how the city would fall as she was seeing how it would work, but the reader therefore expects the city to fall so there is no real twist or resolution at the end. Just chaos. The only arguable “resolution” the reader gets from the story is that Apollo learns why Daphne chose to turn into a tree. A good resolution, but not one that resolves the novel’s titular purpose or the reason we’re reading in the first place.

Other problems I had with the story were:

1) If Athena could take people from their times, then why did she not just “rescue” the artwork and etc. from their times as well instead of making a whole ordeal of it that involved the masters jumping from era to era? Sure, it sounds fun for them (though we never actually get to see it anyways). But it also got tiring to read about.

2) Jo Walton tried too hard to reconcile Christianity (or, the Christian beliefs of the masters) to the Greek gods she was writing about. Her characters—even the god Apollo—come up with a very Miltonic view of “Divinity.” Yet John Milton was never once mentioned or given credit for such an idea.

3) On every level, Walton missed opportunities to talk about animal rights. Instead, she worried more about robot rights, which was a topic she had to engineer—a topic that didn’t come “naturally” to the story. The fact animal rights weren’t even a thought was very hard for me to wrap my head around, because the children, in a lot of ways, were treated just like animals—forced to breed, grouped by eugenic standards, etc. And yet, despite this effort of avoiding pro-animal conversation, she directly sidesteps the fact that animal sacrifices are thing Apollo and Athena’s worshipers were totally into. Never really addresses it.

4) The gods aren’t bothered by the fact humans have spread to outer space in the future. Apollo says we colonize Mars at one point (he knows this and yet Athena doesn’t blink an eye about the possibility of her robots becoming self-aware? Jesus, Athena, couldn’t you have found some less-advanced robots or something? Or, built them some of your own design? Or, oh, I don’t know, asked Hephaestus to build you some? Whatever.). Back to my point. If the humans can’t even make it in the Just City with Athena helping them then why the hell would the gods want us to colonize other planets?—And be amused we do so? (Apollo seemed amused when thinking about it).

5) The debate between Socrates and Athene. Really, the thing could have just been him accusing her of cheating and then she could have been like “Fine, I’m out. You do this on your own, bitches!” Which Jo Walton totally should have let her do instead of dragging out what the reader already knew. Instead of disliking Athena, I found myself wondering why she would let the conversation go on so long in the first place. Though, to a point, this debate seemed like it was part of her plan in watching the city fall (I think?). But if so, it didn’t come off clearly in the book.

Things I LOVED about the novel:

1) The concept itself. I can’t believe a book like this was published. It’s so smart and not normally what legacy publishing is into. And, it’s not YA.

2) How Jo Walton addresses rape in every main character’s POV. I have never seen it handled so well in a novel. Really, this is what the novel is about. Rape.

3) The cover. Just….The cover!

4) The fact that Lucrezia Borgia was involved in this story! #TheBorgiasFan

Where We Belong (A Book Review by Hel from OhSoCleverReads)

Helena sez,

So I read Where We Belong, the newest book by Emily Giffin – the author of Something Borrowed, which was made into a cute film a few years ago.

Let me just say, I am a fan of chick lit. Though it is often awful, it makes me feel happy, and that’s what it’s supposed to do. Which is why I continue to re-read Twilight every year. I have read all of Emily Giffin’s books, and liked them well enough. This one, not so much. Her novels are generally centered by a love story, with other smaller stories surrounding it – friendship, family, mid life crises, yadda yadda.

Where We Belong was different because the central story was of an adopted daughter setting out to find her birth mother and connecting with her “real” family. In the process, the author also develops romantic interests for the daughter, Kirby, and the mother, Marian; we see the female leads interact with their friends – for Kirby, this means petty high schoolers; for Marian, petty up scale New Yorkers; and their respective relationships with their parents: Kirby feels like she doesn’t belong with her family, and Marian has kept here pregnancy and the adoption of her daughter a secret from her father for the past 17 years.

Another difference was the fact that the perspective switched back and forth between the daughter and the mother, and I never felt like I really got a sense of who either of them are. Also, Emily’s attempt to inhabit the mind of a 17 year old social outcast really fell short. Kirby was annoying. Emily tried to make her seem like a musical genius, and through in drum and classical rock references whenever she could, in very contrived ways. Marian was more interesting, perhaps so by default because she is a TV producer living in New York.

I was also left wanting when the two meet for the first time: Kirby shows up on her mothers doorstep after getting access to Marian’s name and address for the first time on her 18th birthday. The scene is mostly written from Kirby’s perspective, and though we do have access to some of Marian’s thoughts and thus know that her emotions are out of control, her actions are far too nonchalant for the situation. Marian invites Kirby in, they go clothing shopping together, eat breakfast, and ignore all deeper issues for the most part.

One thing I liked about the book, and do about all of Giffins novels, is the fact that there are recurring characters. Some of Marian’s friends were the central characters in other novels. Other than that, I can’t really recommend the book.

Read the full blog post (+my reviews) at OhSoCleverReads.