“… she refused to allow anyone – even Miguel – to refer to Majnoun as ‘her’ dog.
– I’m as much his as he’s mine, she’d insist.
Her friends – and her husband – thought this an annoying eccentricity. Majnoun knew what she meant – that she was not his master – and he was grateful. But in his heart he felt as if he did belong to her, in the sense that he was a part of Nira and she a part of him.”
Winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Winner of Canada Reads 2017.
These are just two of the major competitions and awards Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis has won. However, these are not the reasons why I decided to read this book, though the competitions prior to this book winning, were what brought it to the forefront of my mind on numerous occasions. The primary driver for reading this was, of course, how it was assigned as a book for my monthly library book club. So now that I have covered this, let’s get down to it.
Fifteen Dogs, at first glance, reminds me of Animal Farm by George Orwell, simply as it is a novel told through the perspective of animals, and happens to deal with heavy themes. Both are not for children (though somehow I read Animal Farm at 14). The main basis for Fifteen Dogs is a bet between Hermes and Apollo, in which fifteen dogs staying at a Toronto veterinary clinic are granted human consciousness. Of course, things are not as smooth and happy as we would like them to be, as the dogs struggle with new thoughts and feelings and forge relationships like no other. One dog even becomes a poet!
I am of two minds in regards to Fifteen Dogs. The first is I was simply reading with the goal of getting through it, since it is a book club book for me. When this happens to me, it means I am not connecting to the story, which indicates something is lacking, whether its in a grammatical sense or in a feeling. In this case, there is nothing wrong with the grammar. Frankly, I found the prose quite poetic. Somehow, I expected that would be the case, because otherwise I find talking animals treading the line between adult fiction and fiction for children (perhaps young adult fiction too).
There was a certain point however, and a particular dog’s storyline that hooked me. I will not reveal which one it was, but I can say it influenced my opinion of this book in a major way. I can definitely link my almost visceral reaction to the events in this particular portion because of the fact I have my own dog (well, the family dog, when I was living at home) whom I love so much it is absolutely ridiculous. Combine this with my mind’s penchant for catastrophizing and a recent potential health issue with my beloved pup, and my reaction…well, you can imagine. In any case, looking at it a few days after finishing the book and getting some perspective, I can say that regardless of the nature of my reaction, it was definitely good for the book to elicit that.
Whether you are cheering in a book, sobbing, or have any other strong reaction, the point is this: you reacted. Reading a book without a reaction and being apathetic to everything in it is not a good thing. I would much rather absolutely hate whatever it is I am reading than experience apathy. The apathy with books is what makes me feel as if I wasted my time reading it. This is also why I am grateful I found something in this book to connect with, even though it hurt me and I just wanted to cuddle my puppy, when I couldn’t.
Overall, I would recommend reading Fifteen Dogs, particularly if you currently have, or have ever had a pet, even if it was not a dog. It will certainly be an emotional ride, regardless of which dog’s story or stories you connect with, but still worth it. I would also recommend this to individuals looking for a book with high quality prose, which this one definitely has in spades.
If you do read Fifteen Dogs, let me know what you think! Which dog did you connect with the most? Do you have pets of your own? Tell me about them too!
Until next time…
Title: Fifteen Dogs
Author: André Alexis
Publisher: Coach House Books