Kimbofo reviews Fifteen Dogs

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12015 AlexisKimbofo has kicked off her Giller reading this year with Fifteen Dogs, Andre Alexis’ novel. Here is the opening of her review — you can get the full version here:

André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs has been longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize. It’s by far the oddest, and possibly most absurd, book I’ve read in a long while. Indeed, to say I didn’t much like it might be an understatement.

Under normal circumstances, I’m sure I would have abandoned this strange and unusual novella. But as some of you will no doubt know, every year since 2011 I have taken part in the Shadow Giller — chaired by KevinfromCanada — in which a group of us read and review all the books on the Giller Prize longlist for that year. Between the four of us, we then choose a winner in advance of the real Giller. (You can read more about how the Shadow Giller came about on Kevin’s blog here.) And because I’m taking part in the process once again for 2015, I felt that I had to finish the book — even when every bone (pun not intended) in my body told me to put it aside and read something else instead!

So, what’s so weird about it, I hear you ask? Well, it takes the form of a fable in which the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo give a group of dogs the gift of consciousness. The idea is that intelligence does not make humans any more superior or happier than other animals.

“— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, said Apollo, that animals — any animal you choose — would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they had human intelligence.
— An earth year? I’ll take that bet, said Hermes, but on condition that if, at the end of its life, even one of the
creatures is happy, I win.”

And then 15 dogs, all staying overnight in a veterinary clinic in Toronto, discover that they can suddenly think for themselves, talk in a new language (English) and reason with one another. Yes, I told you it was a weird book.

Kim’s convinced me — I won’t be reading this one unless it make the shortlist (and even then only to try to figure out what the judges could be thinking). She is moving on to Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor next. I’m almost finished Connie Gault’s A Beauty and should have a review up later this week.

8 Responses to “Kimbofo reviews Fifteen Dogs”

  1. Sheila O'Brien Says:

    Kim;
    very interesting review. I find that it is rare for an author to pull off this sort of eccentric tome. John Irving has been very successful at it, bit it sounds like Alexis has missed the mark. Kudos for finishing it.

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    • kimbofo Says:

      Thanks, Sheila. I admit that I almost gave up — every time I put the book down, I did not want to pick it up again. It took me two long weeks to read it, yet it’s only 159 pages in total, something that would generally only take me a couple of longish sittings. But that’s not to say it’s a bad book, it’s just that it wasn’t really my cup of tea, so to speak. I see that there are plenty of amazing reviews all over the Internet about it, so it seem to have plenty of popular appeal despite what I might say…

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  2. Lisa Hill Says:

    Hi Kevin
    A couple of years ago, Kim commented on a ‘less than favourable’ review of mine that she was tempted to read the book just to see if it was as bad as I thought it was.
    I have to confess that I am starting to feel the same way about this one!
    Best wishes
    Lisa

    Like

  3. Shawna Says:

    Thanks for the review, Kim and Kevin! I always feel a bit of relief when I read a review that convinces me I probably won’t like a book. One fewer book to add to my already large stack of those waiting to be read. It will be interesting to see if this one makes the official shortlist.

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  4. Yvonne Harding Says:

    I was a bit shocked to like this odd little book, especially b/c I found Childhood unbelievably painful and gave up on it. Full disclosure I am a dog person, but that’s not entirely why this book held my interest. It made me think on a philosophical level about humanity and happiness and I enjoyed that. And somehow, these canines, struggling caught between instinct and consciousness made the topic more tangible. Patrick deWitt is more my cup of tea, but i enjoyed this quirky tale.

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