Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Review: Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

If there are animals in your life, there's no doubt you've anthropomorphized them, assuming they feel things similar to how we humans feel. And maybe they do feel emotion like us; without a common language, we have no real way to know although science certainly does its best at researching and drawing conclusions. But what if animals, dogs in particular, were given the gift or curse of human consciousness and intelligence? We could know exactly what they were feeling and thinking. But would it make them a different creature altogether? Would it, in fact, be a blessing or a curse? Andre Alexis' novel Fifteen Dogs takes just that premise and question and spins it out to its final, perhaps surprising, answer.

While sitting in a bar one night Hermes and Apollo were arguing about humanity and as Greek gods are wont to do, they made a wager over what the granting of human intelligence would do to other creatures. Apollo argued that any other creature given human intelligence would end up miserable while Hermes maintained that at least one of the creatures would die happy despite this complicated gift of consciousness. Seeing a vet clinic on their walk home, they decided to play out the bet and chose to grant human intelligence on the 15 dogs spending the night in the clinic. And then they moved on, leaving the dogs to realize and accept or reject their confusing new reality on their own.

The changed dogs immediately start acting out of character (species?), escaping the vet, and creating a sort of proto-human society amongst themselves. The novel mostly follows one or two dogs at a time, from their awakening into an awareness that changes everything to their respective deaths. Their lives are not lengthened, remaining realistically short, and many face graphic and terrible deaths as the reader, along with Hermes and Apollo, wonder if even one can in fact die happy or if this intelligence has robbed them of the ability to maintain happiness and joy. While the gods make occasional appearances in the story, for the most part, the dog's lives are left to nature and chance and whatever each dog can create for him or herself using their newly awakened intelligence. There is literally a deus ex machina in black poodle Majnoun's life arc and Prince, a poetry loving mutt, also suffers the meddling of the gods. There is a bleak ferocity here, a relatedness to Lord of the Flies in this apologue, as it examines the nature of happiness, the importance of language and poetry, and the philosophical idea of the cost of awareness. The fifteen dogs represent so much that drags humanity down, their weaknesses and fears, their brutality and power structures, but in the end, the passing of the last dog and the answer to Hermes and Apollo's wager is a reflective and philosophical experience full of the power of possibility, of language, of love. This is a strange but intriguing story, a morality tale that tells a big story using well-rendered small, furry characters. It's surprisingly accessible but is probably not a book for everyone. In the end, I enjoyed the thought behind it and I will probably never look at the dog sitting in my lap quite the same way again.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. Having grown up with dogs, I have frequently wondered what would happen if they had the ability to think like humans. I can't hide that I find this book intriguing!

    Konna @ The Reading Armchair


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts