Does human intelligence lead to happiness or misery? That’s the question at the crux of André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs.
The book already won the 2015 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and rightfully so. Masterfully created, not to mention, a philosophical wonder, Fifteen Dogs once again won the hearts of the CanLit world to sit as one of the five finalists on the esteemed 2017 Canada Reads list.
How do you take a book centred around dogs and make it add meaning to the modern era? Not easily, but André Alexis has managed to do it with panache.
The novel is set in Toronto. The gods Hermes and Apollo, are already downing down a few pints at a tavern, when they decide to make a bet. A small group of animals would be ingratiated with language and intelligence. The outcome is to determine whether the theory that human intelligence is “an occasionally useful plague” is true, and whether it will cause more misery than gratification.
" I wonder", said Hermes, "what it would be like if animals had human intelligence."
" 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."
As they leave the tavern, they come across fifteen pups at a veterinarian’s clinic, who are fated to become their test subjects.
As the dogs suddenly become aware of their newfound status, some are resistant to the change, while others embrace it. It also creates division between them.
A classic class-system structure comes into play, and in the dog-eat-dog world, it is inevitably, survival of the fittest. Reading André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs reminded me of one of my favourite books of all time, Watership Down by Richard Adams. While not quite as cumbersome a read, Fifteen Dogs still stands out amongst those epic allegories where philosophical concepts of freedom, conformity and dominance are masterfully incorporated into the themes.
The question remains whether the book will once again win the hearts of all Canadians and win the 2017 Canada Reads, which will be held at the CBC from March 27-30th. Humble The Poet will be defending this witty book in the debates. After following many a Canada Reads debate, I know that it’s not necessarily a case of may the best book win, but a case of may the one who defends the book best win.