Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

23129923“But what am I without those who understand me?”

What would happen if animals were given human consciousness?  This is a question posed by the god Hermes to Apollo.  Apollo believes that they would be even more unhappy than humans, while Hermes believes that they would die happier.

– I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.
– I wonder if they’d be as unhappy as humans, Apollo answered.
– Some humans are unhappy; others aren’t.  Their intelligence is a difficult gift.
– 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. 

So, a wager is set between the two gods, and fifteen dogs at a Toronto veterinary clinic are granted human consciousness.  The gods look on as the lives of the dogs unfold with their new-found abilities.  There are those who embrace the new way of thinking and those who feel they’ve lost their way.

– Black dog, said Atticus, can there be a feeling greater than belonging?
– No, said Majnoun.
– And yet, said Atticus, I am sometimes afraid that I will not know the feeling again, that I will never again know what it is to be a dog among dogs.  This thinking of yours, black dog, it is an endless, dead field.  Since the change, I have been alone with thoughts I do not want.
– I understand, said Majnoun.  It is the same for me.  But we must bear it, because we cannot escape the things within.

Fifteen Dogs is a thought provoking read that brings up and explores many philosophical questions about human nature and happiness.  The story overall is well crafted and it is clear that there is a point and purpose behind everything that occurs.  It is a given that the dogs will die during the course of the story so it is not the easiest read, emotionally speaking.  There is a considerable amount of violence, so if that is something you have difficulty with, perhaps this may not be the best option.  While I did have certain reservations because of this, I found the concept to be well executed and appreciate the story as a whole.

Fifteen Dogs was the winner of the Giller Prize this year and deservedly so.  You can see a short reading by the author here.

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