Do you know what an apologue is? Probably not, don’t feel unenlightened: it’s a moral fable, especially one with animals as characters. Orwell’s Animal Farm is the best known example, but as of this week in Canada, we’ve got a new one to praise and read: Fifteen Dogs, this winner’s winner of the $25,000 Rogers Writers Trust Award, by Andre Alexis.
Third time was a charm for Andre, who had been nominated twice before, for Childhood (1998) and Pastoral (2014). This book is also shortlisted for this year’s $100,000 Giller Prize. Lucky dog.
Published by Coach House Books, the book starts off as a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo, which led to them granting 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. What it all amounts to is an “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.”
Or as the Writers Trust jury declared, this is a “beautifully written allegory for our times…Fifteen Dogs is an original and vital work written by a master craftsman: philosophy given a perfect form.”