Paul Bryant's Reviews > Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
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Hmmm, a whimsical wager by two Greek gods lounging around in a Toronto bar? Eugh. Fifteen random dogs given human intelligence to see if this will make them happier or not? Yeuchhh. So we’re not in Kansas anymore? Nope, we’re smack in the middle of Tweeville.

Alright, so when you get over those two hurdles, it then becomes sweet and quite compelling, but also confusing, irritating, incoherent and mawkish. If you want to shed tears over noble dogs leading lonely lives pining for their old owner to return which they can never do because plot spoiler plot spoiler, or old blind dogs crossing streets by sense of smell alone, okay, you came to the right place. Gee whiz, at times this is like a postmodern Incredible Journey



(except no cats. )

Andre Alexis has his cake and eats it all the way through this entertaining, short, soulful but slightly dodgy novel. He changes the rules about the dogs-with-human-consciousness as it pleases him. Consistency is the bugbear of little minds for Andre Alexis. For instance, the case of Majnoun, the black poodle whose story takes up most of the book. He is adopted by a nice couple Nira and Miguel. When he reveals to her that he can talk in a kind of approximate English Nira freaks out badly and schleps him right back to the vets clinic whence he came. A realistic reaction, one may think. But they go back and get him again, and later, after some months, he becomes Nira’s best friend and confidante, and she has completely accepted his human intelligence; indeed, they have complex, speculative conversations :

There were other problems that, Nira assumed, had their origins in Majnoun’s culture as opposed to his nature. For instance, she thought it distasteful for male dogs to mount females en masse, each waiting his turn. Majnoun did not even pretend to take her distaste seriously. A bitch in heat was a bitch in heat.

And so forth. Now, I must say this is an unrealistic reaction to Majnoun’s intelligence. At no point does Nira realise that a thinking, nay, contemplative dog is an epochal, newsworthy – not to say million-dollar – event. So, you know that our author is not interested really in any kind of realistic stuff here, just in tootling round various philosophical or sociological or cultural points to ponder and using thinking dogs as his peg.

Most of the time this is conducted with insouciant grace and I really did enjoy the violent tale of the undoing of the pack led by Atticus (an imposing mastiff with cascading jowls) but occasionally it all gets really very groanworthy :

It was at this time that Atticus began to pray. He already had a notion of what an idea or pure dog might be : a creature without the flaws of thought. As time went on he attributed to this pure being all the qualities he believed to be noble: sharp senses, absolute authority, unparalleled prowess at hunting, irresistible strength. Somewhere, thought Atticus, there must be a dog like this. Why? Because one of the qualities his ideal canine possessed was being. An “ideal” dog that did not exist could not be truly ideal. Therefore, the dog of dogs, as Atticus conceived it, had to exist.

This is a really crass shoehorning in of the theological argument first proposed a million years ago by I dunno St Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, one of those beardy types, I guess I could google it. Could be students of hmmm Saussure or Popper or Lacan would be groaning in other places as they see their most familiar debating points popping up in this or that dog’s debates.

But heck, this is a quick, entertaining book which succeeds in being different and not boring, so three stars for Fifteen Dogs.
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Reading Progress

December 5, 2015 – Shelved
December 5, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
February 7, 2016 – Started Reading
February 11, 2016 – Shelved as: novels
February 11, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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Derek "Could be students of hmmm Saussure or Popper or Lacan would be groaning in other places as they see their most familiar debating points popping up in this or that dog’s debates. "

You don't think that's kind-of the point?


Paul Bryant well, yes, to cover the territory, but no, not so that we groan while he's doing it. You have to admit that the quote in my review is not subtle.


message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim Paul wrote: "well, yes, to cover the territory, but no, not so that we groan while he's doing it. You have to admit that the quote in my review is not subtle."

Subtle as a Bullmastiff in a China shop...


Derek Paul wrote: "well, yes, to cover the territory, but no, not so that we groan while he's doing it. You have to admit that the quote in my review is not subtle."

Oh, I do. You could have taken a quote from any random page, and it would likely be just as unsubtle. I didn't find that detracting from my appreciation, which I actually find a little odd, because that sort of thing usually annoys me. I put some of that down to the fact that Alexis used to have a show on CBC Radio where he'd tell his stories, and even though I read it on paper, I heard this whole book in his voice. His style works for me.


Paul Bryant For me ignorance was bliss, meaning that I enjoyed it most when I didn't know what Famous Argument about Linguistics was being proposed at that moment.


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