Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen Dogs

An Apologue

Book - 2015
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An utterly convincing and moving look at the beauty and perils of consciousness.


âe" I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.

âe" I''ll wager a year''s servitude, answered Apollo, that animals âe" any animal you like âe" would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old''dog'' ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

André Alexis''s contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of human consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks.

Fetching praise for Fifteen Dogs:

''[Alexis] devises an inventive romp through the nature of humanity in this beautiful, entertaining read âe¦ A clever exploration of our essence, communication, and how our societies are organized.''âe" Kirkus Reviews

''Alexis manages to encapsulate an astonishing range of metaphysical questions in a simple tale about dogs that came to know too much. The result is a delightful juxtaposition of the human and canine conditions, and a narrative that, like just one of the dogs, delights in the twists and turns of the gods'' linguistic gift.'' âe" Publishers Weekly (starred review)

''Fifteen Dogs is an original and vital work written by a master craftsman: philosophy given a perfect form.'' âe" from the 2015 Rogers Writers'' Trust Fiction Prize jury citation

''Truly a privilege to read.'' âe" Wordfest Reviews

''Alexis takes up notions of language and consciousness on a fundamental level, and what it means to have both or one without the other.'' âe" Full Stop 

''Over the course of this novel, slim yet epic in scope, Alexis chronicles the fates of these strangely afflicted beasts, shifting from thought experiment to comic parable to something more delicate, laden with detail, discovery and emotional nuance.'' âe" The Globe & Mail

''A remarkable book. Insightful, wildly original and beautiful. Buy it.'' âe" Mark Medley, Books Editor at The Globe & Mail

''Alexisâe(tm)s technical skills are extraordinary. His characters are diverse and expertly differentiated, and his sentence crafting is brilliant. ... Iâe(tm)m not ashamed to say that I cried at the end.'' âe"

''A clever and beguiling study of human nature through the eyes of dogs.'' âe" Largehearted Boy

''A nimble rumination on consciousness, language, love, and art.'' âe" Albert the Dog

The 2015 Rogers Writers'' Trust Fiction Prize jury citation:

''In Fifteen Dogs âe" André Alexisâe(tm) powerful apologue âe" questions of knowledge and happiness, fidelity and fate are grounded in the real-world adventures of a group of dogs. Here is a beautifully written allegory for our times: one in which manâe(tm)s best friend shows us the benefits of higher consciousness âe" the favoured bone of fact buried where we might all find it. Fifteen Dogs is an original and vital work written by a master craftsman: philosophy given a perfect form.''

The 2015 Giller Shortlist citation:

''What does it mean to be alive? To think, to feel, to love and to envy? André Alexis explores all of this and more in the extraordinary Fifteen Dogs, an insightful and philosophical meditation on the nature of consciousness. Itâe(tm)s a novel filled with balancing acts: humour juxtaposed with savagery, solitude with the desperate need to be part of a pack, perceptive prose interspersed with playful poetry. A wonderful and original piece of writing that challenges the reader to examine their own existence and recall the age old question, whatâe(tm)s the meaning of life?''

Publisher: Toronto : Coach House Books, ©2015
ISBN: 9781552453056
Branch Call Number: ALEXIS
Characteristics: 171 pages : maps ; 21 cm
Alternative Title: 15 dogs


From Library Staff

SurreyLibraries_Reads Jul 21, 2017

Having to learn English as a Second Language in Canada I related to the story of dogs learning to communicate with humans. Being a dog lover I found the concept of dogs developing human intelligence very enjoyable and wildly original.
- Iwona

Also available in eBook and Downloadable Audiobook.

Also available in eBook and Downloadable AudioBook.

Also available in: eBook and Downloadable Audiobook.

From the critics

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Oct 19, 2018

I got thru 2/3 before I put it aside. An interesting premise but not well enough fleshed out - I found I was having trouble remembering which dog was which, and I really didn't care.

Vero_biblio Oct 16, 2018

Follow 15 bewitched dogs through Toronto.
Gods Hermes and Apollo conduct an experiment on a group of dogs, and grand them human consciousness and language for a year in order to determine if they would be as unhappy as humans or if their apparently natural happy disposition would prevail.
Beware : this book might make you go through many strong emotions!

Sep 24, 2018

I am not usually drawn to stories about animals, and was especially reluctant to read this as I hated the last dog book I read (Art of Racing in the Rain). A friend recommended it for its philosophical elements so I took the chance and ended up loving it. I really admire authors who can convey an idea of what it might be like to view the world from a particular animal’s point of view, and Alexis does so very well. The dogs come across as very unique characters, relatable but still very doggish -not just humans trapped in dog bodies. I enjoyed the philosophical aspects of the book as well...and of course Greek Gods are always fun to keep things moving along.

Some parts moved me to tears and others made me laugh out loud. It’s a wonderful book, but as another comentator noted, may be a bit intense if you are a soft-hearted dog lover as some parts are very violent.

Aug 09, 2018

The book is a treatise on what make humanity different from other animals, namely, it asks: what defines humanity? To do this, the author looks at people and their relationships through the eyes of dogs that have been given the gift of human speech.

With this device, the author can deal with issues like mortality, death, time, dominance, master and servant (servitude), status, and the most important question of all, what is the nature of love?

I think dogs were chosen for this task because many people feel a strong connection to their dogs. The author uses these emotions to explore the things that define man and beast. “There were a thousand questions [the dog known as] Majnoun would have liked to ask. Are dogs greater than humans? Which beings are smartest? Why is there death? What is the purpose of life?”

If you like philosophizing, you might like this book. If you love dogs, you might find the story too brutal. There is no doubt that this book will make you think.

May 27, 2018

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis a commentary on the meaning of the human condition. It explores the interpretation of conscientiousness and the significance of happiness. The author's big question is, “Can one die happy?”

Jan 17, 2018

I enjoyed the book. If you allow yourself to be taken on the journey, interesting questions arise. Yes it is similar to Animal Farm but it is different, in that explores the relationship between humans, an animal we interact with frequently (dogs) and our environment.

Sep 30, 2017

I was hoping this wasn't going to be another 'Animal Farm' and it wasn't. An interesting read to be sure that can be taken at face value or make of it what you will. Probably won't rush out to read more of this authors work.

Nicr Sep 30, 2017

Suppose Apollo and Hermes chose to wager on whether granting human intelligence to dogs would result in their being as unhappy as humans, and proceeded to do just that to fifteen kennel dogs. What follows is a dark fable about power and reactionary politics, a well-written immersion into the sentience of dogs and a meditation on language and knowledge. Suprisingly violent. In fact, it could have more helpfully (and thus avoidably) been titled The Awful Deaths of Fifteen Dogs.

Aug 30, 2017

I did read it and it certainly kept my attention. From a NON dog person's point of view I learned a lot about dog behaviours that I was not too aware of and don't understand.
Now I know why I'm instinctively reticent about touching dogs.
The whole premise of the story is interesting, dogs being given human thought and judgement. It has humour and irony in it. Almost all the dogs are killed off in some very bizzare ways. Development of their human personalities failed in most the cases because they died off quickly. I felt that the wrong dogs became protagonists or remained alive.

JordanPedersen Aug 14, 2017

I have mixed feelings over Fifteen Dogs. On one hand, it's a novel idea, and compelled me to read on, even as many characters abruptly died and I was left with no one character to really "root for". On the other, it felt unfocused as it blended poetry, mythology, and sporadic philosophical questions that were as quickly dropped as they were introduced.
Worth a read to be able to contribute to the literary discussion around it, because it is also a quick read, but not worth agonizing over if you can't get past the first chapter.

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Age Suitability

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Apr 09, 2018

AlieGrace thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over

trevordunfordswife Jul 27, 2016

trevordunfordswife thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


Add a Summary

Apr 01, 2017

In a Toronto tavern, the gods Apollo and Hermes strike a bet. When Hermes wonders what it would be like if animals had human intelligence, his brother Apollo wagers a year’s servitude that the animals—any animals Hermes would like—would be unhappier than humans if given human intelligence. The wager is struck, and fifteen dogs in a nearby animal shelter suddenly gain human consciousness—all while still in possession of their canine urges and instincts. As they develop a new language to convey their transformed understanding of the world, the pack becomes divided between those who embrace the new way of thinking and communicating, and those who wish to resist change at all costs. The gods watch—and occasionally interfere—as the dogs try to navigate this abrupt transition. But will any of them die happy?

Mar 14, 2016

what a boring and predictable book. I read it based on the comments but it was very predictable. The dogs were granted special power based on a wager between two gods. They dont get along. one dog wants to be the leader, kills a no of dogs and so on

What a waste


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Apr 01, 2017

Perfect understanding between beings is no guarantor of happiness. To perfectly understand another’s madness, for instance, is to be mad oneself. The veil that separates earthly beings is, at times, a tragic barrier, but it is also, at times, a great kindness.


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