Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, reviewed by Gail M. Murray

Winner of the 2015 Giller Prize. Coach House Books, 171 pages, Trade paperback $10.77, Kobo $12.79. Available from Chapters/Indigo here.

André Alexis has written a modern allegory set in Toronto’s Beach and High Park neighbourhoods. The story begins with a wager between Apollo and Hermes.

   - 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.

   - 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 this gift is visited upon dogs in a veterinary clinic.

André Alexis 
We’re reminded of Eve’s loss of innocence and expulsion from the garden once she has knowledge. This book begs to be read by book clubs and placed on secondary school English curriculums. Similar to William Goldings’ Lord of the Flies, it depicts savagery and the dark side of humanity.  

Animals kill for survival with no evil intent. When human nature is overlaid on animals, it perverts their true nature. The majority of the dogs are obsessed with finding their old life as dogs, not the hybrids they’ve become, and set out to destroy those dogs who embrace the new language and thinking.

It’s disheartening to think intelligence causes creatures to behave with malice but human history is scattered with war, greed, and domination along with the great works of art, music and literature.

Despite finding the brutal cold-blooded murders and death upon death disturbing I did find this book gripping, and thought-provoking.

The only hope given to the reader comes in the character of Majnoun, the black poodle, who is so viciously attacked by the pack, left for dead, and then cared for by humans.

Prince, the heroic mutt who creates poetry, is the idealist, who never loses his optimism.  The others are purebred. Is this mutt our everyman? What man could be capable of? Or is he a Christ-like figure who never loses faith in spite of the cruelty inflicted upon him by Apollo?

“Even in his worst days, the lake buoyed his spirits.” Prince is grateful for the beauty of language.

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Gail M. Murray is a poet and freelance writer. Like Keats, she seeks to capture the moment. Her poems have been published in Wordscape , Arborealis, and CommuterLit, and her creative nonfiction in NOW Magazine, Renaissance Magazine, Trellis, and The Globe and Mail.

See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Alton, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, St. John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Ingersoll, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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