I love Dogs. When it comes to choosing a future pet, Cats won’t even get a look in. I love that a dog is the perfect mix of Loyalty, Intelligence, Playfulness and stupidity. I grew up with a dog in the house and my families lives where all enriched by it. skip forwards to a few weeks ago and I was, Amazingly, in a book shop. I found a book on a display table that looked interesting and upon reading the blurb it went straight into my basket. I’ve since learned that a close friend has read this for their book club recently so it’s obviously growing in popularity. The Book was called Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis and I settled down on a Friday evening with a glass of good red wine, ready to enjoy myself.
The premise of the book is that the Greek Gods Hermes and Apollo are drinking in a pub in Canada. the conversation turns to human intelligence and whether it is a gift or a curse. They decide to give Human intelligence to 15 dogs currently in a vets office. Hermes Bets a year of servitude to Apollo that at least one of these dogs will be happy at the moment of death. We then follow the lives of the 15 who quickly start to understand language, humor, class structure and their place on the evolutionary scale.
The best way to describe this book is to say that it’s almost a cross between Animal Farm and Hipollytus by Euripides. The dogs establish leadership figures very early on in their journey and the way that Atticus, A Neapolitan Mastiff, takes control and deceives the others is highly reminiscent of Napoleon in Orwell’s classic. The problems arise in the pack due to the conservative, who want no part in the new language and those who embrace their intelligence like Prince. A mongrel, who becomes the first canine poet.
Where this differs heavily from Animal farm is through the characters themselves. They aren’t the two dimensional depictions of historical figures that Orwell produced. These are individuals with real emotions. Through their journey we start to question our own ideas about family, happiness and love. This is particularly true in the case of Majnoun a poodle that is taken in by a human woman, much of the book is dedicated to the bond between them and distinctly goes into the “Master and Pet” argument as Manjnoun’s intelligence makes them equals.
I mentioned that this is also similar to Hippolytus by Euripides. If you don’t know the story then don’t worry. The main correlation between the two books is the Gods. Euripides was one of the first playwrights to show the Gods as less than perfect. In fact, he made them petty. Alexis has done the same in Fifteen Dogs. Both Apollo and Hermes cheat outrageously to try and win their bets but they aren’t the only ones. As other Gods learn of the wager they start to join in the fun leading to the Dog’s lives being influenced by the fates and even Zeus himself.
So who should read this book? Part of me thinks I should list Dog lovers here but considering the outcome for some of the dogs it may leave you crying on the bathroom floor like the end of Marley and Me. If you like social commentary and philosophy then I’d definitely recommend this. If you like your Gods petty and bitter then give it a go.
I enjoyed Fifteen Dogs. I don’t think it’s going to the top of my Bookcase and I doubt I’ll read it again but I did enjoy it. Despite the plus points and an intriguing concept I didn’t find this to be a hugely memorable read. However, at times that’s what I’m looking for. I went on to read Rebecca after this and I’m still wading through Moby Dick. This was exactly the right book for me to read in the interim. It’s not a fun read, but it is an enjoyable one.