FIFTEEN DOGS by André Alexis


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When is a dog not a dog? Two Greek gods bet on what would happen to 15 unsuspecting canines if they were granted human intelligence.

Alexis (Pastoral, 2014, etc.) devises an inventive romp through the nature of humanity in this beautiful, entertaining read. Apollo and Hermes debate what, if anything, sets humans apart from other mortal beings—a question that is more frequently part of today’s conversations among scientists about consciousness. Settling on intelligence, they enable a random group of mutts, poodles, retrievers, and other breeds to develop their own language, comprehend human language, and understand the passing of time. But the book’s central quest is to explore the possibility for happiness—and whether intelligence hinders or helps this. In their new state of awareness, the dogs escape from a veterinary clinic and form a pack in a city park. Armed with human capabilities, they jockey for power and quarrel over how these gifts should be used. The group's leader, a mastiff named Atticus, fears change, thinking “a pack needed unity, and unity meant that all understood the world in the same way or, if not the world, the rules, at least.” The pack’s poet, who entrances some and disturbs others with his original musings in their new language, is marked for elimination by Atticus, who bans the language as unnatural for dogs. Readers spend most of their time with Majnoun, a poodle who develops a symbiotic relationship with a woman who takes him in, as he encounters other survivors from his pack. To him, “the line between natural (the things Majnoun couldn’t help doing) and cultural (the things he could) was neither clear nor fixed.”

A clever exploration of our essence, communication, and how our societies are organized.

Pub Date: April 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-55245-305-6
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Coach House Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2015


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