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Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue

de André Alexis

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7115025,801 (3.75)178
"I wonder," said Hermes, "what it would be like if animals had human intelligence." "I'll wager a year's servitude," answered Apollo, "that animals - any animal you like - 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. Andr ?Alexis' 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.… (més)
  1. 31
    Senyor de les mosques de William Golding (charlie68)
    charlie68: A book that came into my mind while reading, perhaps similar themes.
  2. 00
    Green Grass, Running Water de Thomas King (unlucky)
    unlucky: Both stories engage with mythology in interesting and novel ways to make philosophical points and both share a similar sense humour
  3. 11
    Watership Down de Richard Adams (charlie68)
    charlie68: Both use animals to move a story along and both have similar themes.
  4. 00
    La Crida del bosc de Jack London (Ciruelo)
  5. 12
    La revolta dels animals de George Orwell (vancouverdeb)
    vancouverdeb: Both books use animals to illustrate human shortcomings and a base nature, animals gain human consciousness,both are allegories , and dystopian novels.
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» Mira també 178 mencions

Es mostren 1-5 de 50 (següent | mostra-les totes)
I love the idea of this book and there was a lot in it that was beautiful. I'm torn between giving it 3 or 4 stars because I think it was very moving but it ultimately undermined its own premise so I think I have to give it 3.

I love the central idea of this book. The gods Hermes and Apollo have a bet over whether animals could be happy with human intelligence so they give 15 dogs the same intelligence as humans and if just one of them dies happy Hermes will win.

This idea is so fun to me because it can be used to explore the differences between the ways that humans and non-human animals experience the world and whether it's true that ignorance is bliss, i.e., that not having a sense of mortality or temporality does make animals happier. Unfortunately I feel like this book fails to deliver on those ideas. For one thing, the dogs in the book act on behaviours that have been shown not to be the innate nature of dogs. They follow the model of alpha and beta wolves which has been disavowed by even the first scientist to describe the theory.

This is a problem because the book is trying to make a point about humanity's capacity for happiness by comparing our consciousness to that of dogs so it just doesn't work when you're aware that the mode of behaviour being presented for dogs is not at all how they actually behave. How can we make meaningful conclusions about how the dogs have been affected by their newfound intelligence when their baseline is not at all accurate? There is so much discussion in this book, for example, about dominance and "stronger" dogs mounting "weaker" dogs to prove their place in the hierarchy and that's just not how they do.

Also, there are 15 dogs given human intelligence, a mix of male and female, yet the only dogs whose point of view we see are male. The female dogs are all peripheral and die horribly. It's especially disappointing since we get a lot of discussion from the male dogs perspective of what it's like to chase a bitch in heat and even poetry about it. I would also be interested in the perspective of what it's like to be a bitch in heat but alas.

Overall I think this book is a really good idea with poor execution but some really beautiful passages that elevate it above the average. ( )
  ElspethW | Feb 26, 2022 |
hard to remember all the dogs. some drift in and out. ( )
  mahallett | Dec 6, 2021 |
What a fun way to think about humanity – by stepping outside of human consciousness and seeing what it might look like from outside. It’s also an interesting speculation about what dog consciousness might be if dogs had a human sort of consciousness (raising right there the question of what consciousness is, what part of it is based on intelligence and what is innate and if it’s innate what part might be universal, or at least cross-species — and then there are the hints of god-consciousness). This sounds like a heavy philosophical debate, which it is, but not in the sense of a dry treatise debated among specialists. Instead, André Alexis tackles it with humour and fun.
The combination of humour, empathy, art and deep thought make this book quite unique. It’s comic and entertaining in many ways, especially in how the dogs and the gods perceive the foibles of humanity. When Apollo says to Hermes, don’t insult me by arguing like a human, it’s a comic reflection that flips over human arrogance and puts it in its place. The humour lightens up a story that might be too sad without it, as does the artfulness of Alexis’ prose. When he describes how the dogs perceive the world through scents and doggy enthusiasms (“the excitement of biting on a new stick”), he offers a genuine insight into different ways of seeing and appreciating the world. And the dogs’ verbal jokes and poems are both fun and poetic. They get at a kind of consciousness that humans don’t appreciate, but can find some empathy with.
The story is, of course, sad, as it deals with life and death. Life is a struggle for the dogs, as it is even without consciousness, but it becomes quite poignant as they are able to contemplate what they want in their lives and the hardships they face. The deaths of the dogs, often occurring quite quickly but sometimes after a full life, is poignant because readers come to know them as sympathetic characters. Even the unsympathetic characters seem to deserve more than they get, and that too is a reflection on human life.
Given that the dogs are granted human intelligence, and in many ways think like humans, it’s disturbing how quickly the pack falls into something like fascism. Some are disturbed by the dogs who think for themselves, and especially by the artist in the pack, because it threatens the hierarchy and the established structure of their society. In this telling, all the dogs accept the hierarchical nature of pack society, but even so free thinkers are seen as a threat that has to be eliminated. If the dogs are an analogue for human society, the story illustrates the rise and the strength of fascism. It’s only through luck or divine intervention that the artists escape fascistic repression.
The real interest, of course, is in the lives of the artists and thinkers. Their conflict with the pack leads the philosophical Majnoun to life with a human who uses her intelligence to communicate. But it leads the poetic Prince to life as an outsider, who interacts with some sympathetic humans but can’t share his vision either with them or with other dogs. What the storyline suggests is that life is brutish and short for the unthinking, but it can have beauty, connection, even happiness, in spite of many challenges, for those who use their intelligence. This is the message we get from other stories set among humans, but setting it in a doggy consciousness simplifies it and gives it a satisfying conclusion. The storyline would probably seem trite if the characters were humans, but that’s the benefit of a fable – the author can take fundamental truths and give them a novel quality.
Some people compare this novel to dystopian stories like Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies, but I think it has little in common with them. It’s more about communication, like stories about first contact with alien species. Here, the dogs and the gods make contact with humans in a doomed struggle to connect that nevertheless is worth the effort. ( )
  rab1953 | Nov 19, 2021 |
The Greek gods Hermes and Apollo walk into a Toronto bar. No punchline. They make a bet on the outcome of granting dogs the same degree of intelligence as people, fifteen subjects are selected, and the experiment begins. Having already-established humanity to help them make sense of the world seems advantageous for these animals, but is only analogous to what we derive from prior generations and education. The dogs retain enough canine instincts, values and priorities that it invites comparison with our own. The ultimate question that must be answered to resolve the gods' bet is the most human question of all: does anyone die happy?

Majnoun's story, for me, was the most engaging of the fifteen, since he has the most interaction with people. He embraces the gift of intelligence, integrating it into his self-identity when many of the others refuse to explore it. His and the others' self-discoveries are all spelled out; let the awards this novel has garnered be a lesson to all the 'telling' naysayers. Nevertheless it's not my reading preference. I would have liked simply seeing the actions and leaving interpretation up to me. I would also have preferred if the Greek gods didn't keep intervening in the plot. Sure it's typical of them, but to make this a pure thought experiment you can't keep manipulating the variables.

I confess, while reading this I was looking at my dog quite a bit differently. And minding her interaction with my cats. ( )
  Cecrow | Nov 9, 2021 |
JoAnne Drebett rec. Nicely imagined, emotionally astute small novel in magical realist mode about dogs whom the Greek gods give the power of language. A bit choppy because it follows the stories of different dogs in turn, but thought-provoking and humane. ( )
  wordloversf | Aug 14, 2021 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 50 (següent | mostra-les totes)
André Alexis has gone to the dogs. He’s gotten down on all fours, savoured canine experience through Homo sapien senses and emerged with a novel that, like last year’s exquisite Pastoral, commences as an inspired lark and only gradually accrues poignancy and trans-mammalian insight...Yet it is precisely because of this dogness and the contrast it engenders that these dogs’ struggle with intelligence speaks to us so acutely of what it means to be human. The accumulation of experience tells us who we are, and the passing of those experiences haunt us with what we’ve lost.
 
André Alexis’s new novella is an allegorical take on the value and detriment of human consciousness....Yet this story endeavours to delve even deeper by examining what German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once called humanity’s greatest conceit: our ability to invent knowledge...Alexis makes great use of what French writer François Caradec called “Poems for Dogs,” poetry that is meant to bear significance to both humans and dogs by concealing a dog’s name within a verse. ...In the same vein as George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Fifteen Dogs reveals universal truths about human nature by transferring consciousness and conscience to animals. Alexis masterfully dissects the discrepancies in the way humans think and feel, by posing large questions, such as: What is happiness? And what makes a life truly fulfilled? One by one, the dogs succumb to death in full awareness of their mortality and the demise of their language. But by the story’s end, Alexis makes clear that the virtues of love — of being in love and loved in return — is at the core of a good life.
 
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por que es de dia, por que vendra la noche…
- Pablo Neruda, 'Oda al perro'

why is there day, why must night come...
- Pablo Neruda, 'Ode to A Dog'
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One evening in Toronto, the gods Apollo and Hermes were at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern.
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Violence has reasons that reason itself cannot know.
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"I wonder," said Hermes, "what it would be like if animals had human intelligence." "I'll wager a year's servitude," answered Apollo, "that animals - any animal you like - 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. Andr ?Alexis' 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.

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