Human behaviour is an interesting concept, topic of thousands of studies. Yet there is still no answer what makes a human, human. Fifteen dogs tries to answer that ancient question, from the perspective of dogs.
Man’s best friend does not seem to have complex thoughts. They play, they eat, they sleep, they bark at a lot of things. So what happens if you give dogs human thoughts and emotions? That seems to be the question André Alexis was asking right before he wrote Fifteen dogs. It might not be a weird question though, I have met quite a few dog-owners whose fourlegged friends seems to show the same behaviour as them.
Some of the questions and dilemma’s raised in Fifteen dogs are as old as time. The great Greek philosophers tried to analyze and answer them, but they failed as did many after them. However, that is not the only connection with the ancient Greeks that Alexis uses in quite a brilliant way.
Whoever read the Illiad and the Oddysey written by Homer will notice similarities between those great works and Fifteen dogs. It is not the size, it is not the language, but the themes are rather similar. Hamartia, or ‘a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine’, is something not often experienced by a dog. A dog is supposed to be a simple creature, but Alexis’ dogs are more than that. As they gain human intellect and language, they also gain the flaws of humans, and the ability to detect and observe these in others. The result is an almost classic Greek tragedy, with a hero, with unhappiness, with an ending in death (whether or not deserved and fair). The Greek gods meddle once again in human, and dog, lifes with all the same results as in ancient times. This makes Fifteen dogs a very interesting tale, an eye-opener when it comes to the human mind, and a classic Greek tragedy that Shakespeare might have enjoyed (if he was a dog person).
While reading, the reader gets the opportunity to observe gods, dogs, and humans as if they are all the same. You get to analyze, think, rethink, and judge as if you are a whole different being. Read about the ultimate human flaws purely by observing instead of experiencing them. The reader becomes an anthropologist, you are allowed to look but not to partake and therefore you can stay unprejudiced.
Fifteen dogs may seem like a fun book based on the concept, but it gets deep into the human psychological dilemma’s and questions quite fast. This makes it not the most easy book I’ve read during the last couple of months, but it is a book that makes you think and that deserves a nice little place on your shelfs.
It begins in a bar, like so many strange stories. The gods Hermes and Apollo argue about what would happen if animals had human intelligence, so they make a bet that leads them to grant consciousness and language to a group of dogs staying overnight at a veterinary clinic.
Suddenly capable of complex thought, the dogs escape and become a pack. They are torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into unfamiliar territory, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.
André Alexis. Fifteen dogs / Serpent’s Tail / 9781781255582