|4 out of 5 stars|
" I'll wager a year's servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence."
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.
An interesting novel, which has obviously caught the attention of a number of Calgarians. I had to wait a very long time to get it from our public library and when I returned it this morning there were 543 people waiting their turn. It reads quickly, despite the fact that it is jam packed with ideas.
If any of you have read Jo Walton’s The Just City, this book has a similar feel, with the Ancient Greek gods intervening in the lives of 15 dogs—giving them human consciousness and wagering on whether they will be happier or unhappier with this addition by the end of their lives. The Ancient Greeks believed that a person’s life could not be judged until after death—one could live a wonderful life, but die an awful death and thus be a failure. Hermes and Apollo seem to generally agree with this style of evaluation.
Also contains echoes of Orwell’s Animal Farm in regard to the dogs’ negotiations of relationships with humans.
Nominally about dogs, the book actually explores what it is to be human. Are we happier than the other animals on the planet? Or does our awareness of the past and the future entail a burden? How do we judge a life to have been a happy one?