Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book Review: Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue by Andre Alexis

"Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue" by Andre Alexis
First published in 2015
171 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
What dog owner hasn't wondered what their dog would be like if it could think and talk like a human? Alexis postulates an answer to this question -- and it probably isn't what you expected.

The Long Of It:
I'm a sucker for books about dogs, so there was pretty much no way I could resist "Fifteen Dogs," a story about a group of dogs given human intelligence by the gods Apollo and Hermes for their own amusement -- and a bet, with the stakes being a year's servitude.

The bet centers on whether animals given human intelligence could possibly die happy -- and the gods choose dogs as the creatures for their experiment. Apollo thinks it likely the dogs will die even more unhappy than humans, while Hermes will win the wager if even one of the dogs dies happy.

Thus ensues the saga of fifteen dogs kenneled at a vet in Toronto, who suddenly realize they can see the color red, inherently understand how to get out of their cages, and quickly develop a language of their own.

The dogs are still dogs -- they have a pack mentality, they hunt, they sniff butts -- but they think and talk and understand and remember and learn just like humans. Alexis' look at how the dogs adjust to their new thinking-canine status is interesting -- in particular because the result is not what dog-lovers would expect when they speculate on what their pets would say if they could talk. Just like humans, the dogs have flaws; they're not just happy-go-lucky, affectionate, loyal balls of fur anymore.

Not many of the dogs survive beyond the first year or so, but you will be cheering for dignified Majnoun, a black poodle, and Prince, a mutt and a surprisingly gifted poet (and of course you'll be crossing your fingers for Hermes to win the wager and at least one of these pitiful meddled-with canines to die happy). As with any book, we've got our champions and we've got our villains too. It was weird to think of a beagle as a "bad guy" -- but given human intelligence there are selfish dogs and cowardly dogs and mean dogs right alongside the pensive dogs and kind dogs and brave dogs.

I enjoyed the story and the fascinating look at what it might be like if dogs had human minds -- and I couldn't help but imagine what our boxer dog, Conan, might have been like in the same situation. But the book proclaims itself an apologue -- an allegory or moral fable -- which means that there should be some higher meaning to take from the tale, presumably something to do with humans and happiness. I'm notoriously bad at reading between the lines and finding symbolism and hidden meanings, and I was left feeling like there was some philosophical "big idea" I should've taken away from this quirky story that I didn't quite get.


  1. I just bought this book a few weeks ago - I ordered it from Book Depository because I liked the UK cover better (I rarely do that but it is a MUCH better cover). I don't know when I will get to it but I look forward to giving it a chance.

    1. Well, of course I had to go check out the other cover after reading this, and you are SO right! I love the watercolor look, and those dogs are all characters from the book. Hope you enjoy it whenever you get to it!


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