I approached Fifteen Dogs cautiously. One of my friends said they loved it, another said not so much. Usually I love the recommendations I get from both of these friends, so I was curious to see what side of the fence I’d find myself on.
I’m with the dogs on this one. I loved it from the very beginning with Hermes and Apollo in the Wheat Sheaf Tavern all the way to the tail end.
Briefly, in case you’ve been living in a crate these last few months and are out of touch with the book world, Fifteen Dogs follows the aftermath of a barroom bet between Hermes and Apollo: that animals would be even more unhappy than humans if they were given human consciousness.
Spoilers are always a bone of contention, so I won’t give away the ending, although the ending is not why you’d read this book anyway. We all know that human consciousness is no guarantee of happiness, so what happens in the end is what inevitably happens in The End. This is a book you read for the journey: what happens to the dogs once they are granted human consciousness, and how they deal with it and what they do with it.
The only part of the book that gnawed at me were the poems, until I read the explanation at the end of the book. I’m glad the note about the poems is at the end – it provides a little ‘ohhh’ moment, which then prompts you to go back and read them all again.
There’s humour in here too. It won’t make you howl with laughter, but Alexis’ canine observations are acute. He must have spent hours observing dogs, and thinking about dogs, and thinking about dogs in relation to humans, but also thinking about language, and thought processes. I loved how he interpreted the dogs’ thoughts, making you wonder how you would react in a world where you understood the language, but the underlying concepts were completely alien to you, concepts like love and religion and social hierarchies.
There is so much I loved about this book, from the first impressions of one of the dogs about how condescending humans are (“who’s a good boy?”) to the pack dynamics, to the poodle Majnoun’s journey of learning, to the intermittent comments of the gods and especially the Fates.
I won’t hound you to read Fifteen Dogs, (sorry, sorry) but I do highly recommend it.