Andre Alexis, Fifteen Dogs

So anyway, Hermes and Apollo walk into a bar….

Andre Alexis' novel Fifteen Dogs does indeed begin with something like that old setup for a joke, with the two Greek gods sitting in the Wheat Sheaf Tavern in downtown Toronto, pondering whether humans are uniquely unhappy or whether other beings, if given the same intellectual capacities, would be similarly unhappy. Greek gods being what they are, a trial is arranged, and the fifteen dogs occupying a particular Toronto shelter are given the same kind of intellect that humans have. Hijinks ensue, as well as an awful lot of pain, suffering, and ultimately death -- because the bet turns on whether any of the dogs will die happy. Except for that detail, and maybe for some such readers it'll be fine, this will be just as inspired a Christmas gift for a dog-lover as it seems to be.

Mind you, while reading Fifteen Dogs I kept thinking about my first long-ago read of Leon's Rooke's novel Shakespeare's Dog. The 1980s New York Times review sounds about right, though when I read it, I was enormously impressed by the way that Hooker (the dog) had more depth and character than Shakespeare himself (or Himself).

Photo from
Here, similarly, there are no human characters with as much depth as is available in some of the canine ones, but there's one key advantage to having lots of thinking dogs. In brief, some of Alexis' dogs are terrible individuals: some of them boring, some cruel, some hidebound to ritual, some self-interested.

As appealing as it was to spend time with dogs you admire, there's a special genius involved in deliberately refusing to go for the ideal. These dogs are no more honourable than the humans whose city they occupy, along the margins, where they face threats from humans, from other dogs, and, most worryingly of all, from each other.
From pinterest user Jessie Ashley

Distinctly the majority of your reading time, though, is spent with dogs whose time is more than worth your own, particularly a poet, anxious about the impermanence of orality; a pseudo-socialist, supportive of the group but keen on exceptionality; and a well-meaning but under-equipped leader. The poems themselves might be worth the price of admission, in my mind, but then I'm nerdier than your average reader.

This was my first time reading with a Kobo, I should say, and as such I've found myself utterly incapable of remembering phrases and passages in anything like the detail I'm used to, plus there's no easy way to flip back and forth through the book in search of echoing lines -- plus it seems mysteriously to have disappeared from the borrowed Kobo, so now I can't even go digging for anything. Score one more for hard copy, if you're keeping track at home.

Trust me, though: this is a terrific book, full of insight and speculation about consciousness, dog being, and the meaning of happiness. Much recommended.

(And if you like to have music playing while you read, here's Andre Alexis' suggested 15-song playlist, via Largehearted Boy. Another win for the interwebs.)


theresa said…
I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds it strange to read books on small screens. I don't have a Kobo but a samsung tablet, bought to take on a recent trip to Europe where I was trying to keep luggage very minimal -- hence, no room for the many books I need (three or four a week). I used my library's e-book holdings and so I didn't have to choose between actually buying something that only exists on a screen and a real book. And I was glad to have some choice and the process was pretty easy. But I realize how much I love the tactile experience of holding a book, knowing where I am in the process of reading it -- a bit like my preference for analog time over digital time: I am more comfortable seeing where I am in the 12 or 24 hour cycle...

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