Fifteen Dogs is a book that I considered when it originally came out, but never got around to reading. I did hear a number of interviews with the author, and it was on the ‘someday’ list The fact that it is part of this year’s Canada Read’s contest finally got me to pick it up. I just finished reading it, and I am really not sure how I feel about it.
The book starts with the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo in a bar, which affects the people around them in interesting ways that really does fit in with the pettiness that Greek mythology portrays them with. They get into a bet about whether another species would be happy with human level intelligence. They head out and end up at a vetinary clinic, and they give the fifteen dogs inside intelligence. The parameter they set for the bet is whether or not one of those dogs would die happy (although there are a lot of arguments later about what is ‘happiness’ and at what point of dying that they should look at).
Note the part about ‘die’. In the end, every single dog dies. Some die within a day or two, others live for years. Some die violently and in other unpleasant ways. If you didn’t like A Dog’s Purpose, where a dog is reincarnated over and over again, you really should avoid this book.
Much like humans, some of the dogs are good, and some are bad. One is a poet, one is a philosopher, one is pretty weasely, and one resorts to murder, although his reasons become more understandable as the book goes on. On the other hand, they react as *dogs*, not humans in dog bodies. They were given human *level* intelligence, not *human* intelligence, and some of them are pretty conflicted about that, wanting to go back to what they were.
As well, the gods interfere in various ways, wanting to influence the outcome of the bet, the way the gods do (remember the story of the Trojan War?). Zeus, in particular, takes an interest, although initially he is very annoyed about the bet, and sets limits on what others are allowed to do in the way of interference.
In the end, I’m not sure I enjoyed the book, but it definitely affected me. I was impressed in how alien the minds of the dogs could be. The last couple of chapters did make me cry (which is a pain, since I am an ugly crier, and it leaves me with painful sinuses and a headache). I’m not sure I would vote for it to win Canada Reads, but it definitely deserves the consideration.
Next stop, The Right to be Cold, which I am nearly two thirds of the way through.