Book review: ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by André Alexis

If you’re into man’s (and woman’s) best friend, you will love Fifteen Dogs. Written by Toronto’s own André Alexis and winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize (among others), it tells the story of a group of dogs left in a vet clinic who are gifted with human consciousness and language by the gods Hermes and Apollo. The Greek deities are trying to settle a debate over whether animals could live as happily as humans if they had the same mental capabilities, agreeing that the loser will spend a year in the service of the winner.

As a dog lover, I was instantly drawn to the premise of the story. Alexis takes an original approach to dogs that doesn’t cute-ify them but also keeps them relatable as near-human characters. It also doesn’t hurt that the book is just over 100 pages long. So while it’s not exactly a beach read (it poses important questions about humanity and happiness), it is definitely a quick one, which is ideal for busy professionals who might not have much time to devote to reading.

And as a Torontonian, one of my favourite aspects of the story was the setting. As I was flipping through the pages, I could see myself in the same places that the dogs were visiting, ranging from High Park to the middle of Yonge Street in the downtown core. It’s not often that Torontonians get to read about their own city in such an entertaining and inventive novel.

The Greek mythology feels somewhat out of place in Toronto. Hermes and Apollo are used as plot devices and nothing else, but their scenes with their elevated voices offer a change in the pace of the novel, especially as it winds down midway through.

Still, Alexis offers an entertaining take on dogs, gods and humans. I give it four and a half out of five stars.

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