Book review: Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen DogsFifteen Dogs by André Alexis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a fine story and an interesting idea–what would a group of dogs do if suddenly given human intelligence? The problem comes not in the quality of the novel but in terms of my expectations of it.

(Minor spoilers follow but they reveal nothing the reader won’t encounter in the first few pages.)

The framing device of the story is that the gods Hermes and Apollo place a bet on whether a group of dogs, given human intelligence, would be happy at the time of their deaths. Occasionally Hermes, Apollo, Zeus and other gods step in to interfere or complicate matters further for the dogs.

I found this a little too twee and it also saps much of the emotional depth of the novel, since the author has a literal set of gods that can and do change things on a whim. Just as the reader becomes immersed in the struggles of the dogs to balance their canine and human selves (one dog creates poetry, even as he still craves to eat poop) another scene comes along that reads like a smirking college paper interpretation of the Greek pantheon, employing a droll sort of wit that wears thin quickly.

My other problem with the story is the strong tone of the author’s voice. With (god-like?) omniscience, the author often explains precisely what every character is thinking, whether they are right or wrong, what consequences are to come and so on. At times it feels more like reading a detailed summary of events rather than vicariously experiencing them.

Still, these are deliberate style choices and while they didn’t work well for me, it is very much a matter of personal taste. The meat of the story still holds up so anyone who appreciates the framing will simply appreciate the novel all the more.

Given the unique subject matter and the way the author Alexis commits to the dogs’ perspective, I would still recommend Fifteen Dogs, just be aware of what you’re getting before jumping in.

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