Book Review: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Title: Fifteen Dogs
Author: André Alexis

My Rating: ♥♥

Fifteen DogsFifteen Dogs is the first book that I have read from my CBC Canada Reads 2017 longlist picks. I chose this book because I enjoyed A Dog’s Purpose, which also involves dogs with  human consciousness, and also because it has previously won a couple of other literary awards.

It’s an interesting idea. In a drunken bet, Apollo and Hermes decide to grant human consciousness to a bunch of dogs to see if they die happy. Apollo thinks that if dogs have human consciousness, they will die even more unhappy than if they went on as normal dogs. If just one of the dogs dies happy, then Hermes will win the bet.

Somehow this story missed the mark for me. What I liked most was the Toronto backdrop. But when it came to the actually story of the dogs, I felt that it was hard to connect with them in a way that made their deaths mean something to me. Getting to see the dogs roaming around High Park and the Beach delighted me, and luckily engaged me somewhat with the story.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the novel contains some interesting philosophical discussions about human nature, consciousness, and the root of all of our happiness/unhappiness. As the dogs’ levels of awareness increases, some familiar issues arise, particularly when it comes to power and order within the pack. I think Alexis draws some interesting parallels between the pack mentality of the dogs and society as a whole.

For example, at one point, the more dominant dogs decide that the pack will not use their new-found dog language. I think the leaders at this point have become threatened by the power that the “lower” dogs are gaining as they communicate with one another and learn and grow. And so they try to shut them up by forbidding the new language. Not all that different to many other dystopian thought-control philosophical ideas that have come before (Farenheit 451, 1984).

On that note, this novel seemed to me more like something that would be prescribed at school. And I suppose that’s why it’s on the Canada Reads longlist. But somehow the dogs just didn’t speak to me, and it took me much longer than I expected to read it. I just couldn’t engage.