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Fifteen Dogs – a brief review

A lot has been said and written about Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. After all, it did recently capture the Giller prize. I should say that I dislike awards shows in general, and mostly dismiss them as glitzy commercials. I did watch the Giller show though. After all, this was a contest all about Canadian literature, and that is something special enough that not even an awards show, albeit an unusual one, could diminish.

The finalists all seem like super-interesting books, but by the time the show was over, my note to self was to read Fifteen Dogs as soon as possible. Yesterday Tuffy P bought a copy for me, and just a short while ago I finished gobbling it up.

The premise of the story is simple enough. Two gods mess with the lives of fifteen dogs, all staying overnight at a vet clinic in Toronto. On a bet, the dogs are given the intelligence of humans. The bet asks the question, will any of them die happy?

We follow the adventures of the 15, follow their relationships with other dogs and with people, follow their lives and follow their deaths. We learn how the dogs, with their elevated level of understanding and language skills, understand and relate to humans and how they deal with their own suddenly altered dog-ness.

What a thoughtful and inventive book, and as a bonus, it’s a page-turner. I simply could not put it down. Fifteen Dogs gets my highest recommendation. It’s among the best novels I’ve read in years.

Maybe this year, I’ll read all the finalists and the winner of the Giller. On that list, next up will be Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated by Donald Winkler. That however, will have to wait, as I interrupted The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston in order to gobble up Fifteen Dogs.

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