by André Alexis
I was first intrigued by this book when I saw it on the Globe and Mail’s “Best Books of 2015” list, because it involved two things I really like to read about: dogs and mythology. Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue, by André Alexis, opens with two of Zeus’ sons, Hermes and Apollo, wagering on whether animals that are given human intelligence will be happy. What results from their bet is this often brutal yet thoughtful tale of 15 unsuspecting dogs that are given this “gift.”
In discovering that they are able to think in human terms, with some of them learning to speak in the human language, the dogs are torn between their canine world with their natural dog instincts, and their new world of human consciousness. This divides the pack into those who embrace the new way and those who shun it and want to revert back to being dogs. Each of the dogs develops their own coping mechanisms to move forward in their new world, some seeking human companionship, others steadfastly rejecting any contact, some welcoming the freedom, others seeking ways to conform. The pack initially sets up their den in Toronto’s High Park, but soon enough the different reactions to their new fate leads to betrayal and bloodshed. At times, this tale reminded me of Lord of the Flies, with its somewhat expected breakdown of the pack as leaders emerge and assert themselves, and throughout it saddened me that this is in fact a statement on the state of affairs of the human condition.
The understanding that comes with the consciousness leads the dogs to a heightened awareness of their place on earth and the workings of the pack mentality send the dogs on their separate journeys. My favourite character was Majnoun, a poodle who ultimately finds a couple, Miguel and Nira, to spend his life with. Nira and Majnoun share an understanding of each other that allows Majnoun to learn many of the nuances of human behaviour, and they develop a quiet, lifelong friendship. I think I enjoyed their friendship the most as I want to believe that all dogs want to be loved and understood by their human companions.
André Alexis takes the reader right inside the mind of the dogs, which makes it a very personal tale of each of the canines. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever wondered what their dog might be thinking, and how your relationship might change if you truly could understand one another.