First of all, let’s get something out of the way: I don’t like dogs. I never have and I don’t imagine that I ever will. I get really scared if I see a dog off its lead and if I go to someone’s house and they have a dog, the dog basically has to go to its room. Don’t hate me: I’m just not a dog person.
So it’s perhaps a little bit weird that I enjoyed André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs quite so much. In case you’re wondering it Fifteen Dogs is one of those ‘guess the meaning’ titles or a metaphor or something, allow me to disabuse you of these notions; it is literally a book about dogs. Fifteen of them.
It takes some kind of lunatic genius to come up with a premise for a novel which goes like this; so, two Greek gods are chatting and they decide to have a bet about whether dogs would be better off with human consciousness. And then those gods actually give human consciousness to fifteen dogs who happen to be spending the night at the vet’s and then crazy dog-related stuff will happen. That lunatic genius is Andre Alexis. And his book is brilliant.
Tragedy and violence are never far away from the pack once they leave the veterinarian’s surgery; initially sticking together, it isn’t long before power politics create rifts between the dogs and the pack is severely reduced in numbers. For Atticus, the self-nominated leader of the pack, read Napoleon in George Orwell’s Animal Farm; much as Orwell’s book has given me a lifelong suspicion of pigs, I now have even more reasons to dislike Neapolitan Mastiffs. The violent altercations between the dogs are visceral and, to me, quite shocking; at these points, it’s hard to tell whether the dogs are acting on their canine instincts or reflecting their newfound human thought processes; one thing Fifteen Dogs points out is that we are not so different from the animals we view us beneath us.
Aside from scary Atticus, I really loved some of the dogs in this book, and yes, I do feel a bit weird getting so emotionally attached to fictional talking dogs, particularly when my last encounter with such a creation was the hugely creepy Mr Chartwell in Rebecca Hunt’s novel of the same name. Both Majnoun and Prince are rejected by the pack and their stories from that point onward are genuinely touching. Touching in the way that I am writing this 24 hours after finishing Fifteen Dogs and just thinking about it gain makes me want to cry a bit.
I feel really quite strongly that everyone should read this book. It ticks a lot of my boxes: it is short and weird, both of which make books particularly appealing to me. Fifteen Dogs is both delightful and heartbreaking, although if you’re reading this and you happen to know me, it still doesn’t mean I’m going to form a normal relationship with your dog. Unless it can quote the opening page of Vanity Fair.