Toronto Book Awards

Fifteen Dogs

Fifteen Dogs book jacket2015 Toronto Book Award Finalist

In Fifteen Dogs, the gods Hermes and Apollo wager on whether “human intelligence” is a gift that makes creatures happy or “an occasionally useful plague”. To decide this, they grant human intelligence to fifteen dogs who happen to be in a kennel at King and Shaw. The reader watches along with the gods as the dogs struggle with their new perspective on life and on themselves. Some of the dogs turn to religion, some to politics, some to poetry, and some to love. Fifteen Dogs is a playful and moving look at what it is to be human, but from a unique and unexpected perspective.

What the Judges said . . .

Andre Alexis’s affecting novel, Fifteen Dogs, is an achingly beautiful look at what it means both to be a dog and to be human.

The story follows the chosen dogs as they work through the politics of their pack and struggle to balance their instinctive nature with their new intellectual one. There are some who flourish with their new skills but others in the pack consciously turn away from their humanness and enact a dog pack’s justice on those who embrace it.

Alexis’s detailed and nuanced understanding of dog culture will make animal lovers nod with recognition (and wipe away the occasional tear) and all readers will be gripped by the fluid prose and the deep philosophical questions embedded in this slim yet ambitious work.

André Alexis

André Alexis is a Canadian writer who was born in Trinidad and came to Canada at the age of four. He has written for the theatre, for radio and for opera. He has published short stories, novels, and essays. His first novel, Childhood, was nominated for a Giller Prize, a Writer’s Trust Award and it won the Trillium award and the Books in Canada First Novel Award. His work has also been nominated for the Bocas Prize (for best work by a writer of Caribbean descent), the Governor General’s Award for Childrens Literature, and the Commonwealth Prize. He lives in Toronto and is currently finishing a novel to be published in 2016.

Excerpt from Fifteen Dogs

Over the years, Prince had explored much of the city, but he knew its middle and south best, preferring, in the end, the stretch of Toronto bounded by Woodbine, Kingston Road, Victoria Park and Lake Ontario. Dividing his time amongst a number of houses and masters, he had come to think of the Beach as home. He knew it intimately and loved some of its pleasures; for instance, going down from Kingston Road into the vegetal secret that was Glen Stewart Park. Then again there was the feel of the lakeshore in winter (the sand stiff) or the smell of it in summer: metal, fish, the oils that humans slathered on themselves.

Prince knew any number of safe paths through his territory: escape routes, shortcuts, diversions. He could – if he had to – sniff his way from Kingston near Main all the way to the bottom of Neville Park, from Kew Beach east and north to where Willow and Balsam meet. Certain streets he knew better than others, of course. Kingston Road, for instance. What a crooked loveliness! The way it meanders among the senses: strange spices, the humid entrances to Glen Stewart Park, fresh bread, unpredictable exhalations from houses, the staid and chemical smell of concrete buildings, the shim- mer of streetlights and stoplights and all the illuminations of evening, the humans with their

– Tsk, tsk, tsk ... here, boy!
a hand as it travels in the fur of your back as if searching for something, the sweetness of an unlikely perfume. Kingston Road was always familiar yet somehow always strange. Then again, what about Beech or Willow? They were among the avenues he did not know well. He recognized them by their smells and the way their names looked on street signs, but they were little more than ways to the lake, ways that shimmered in his memory: stretches of green and grey, lawns and sidewalk – dubious, hard to recall. But knowing a territory is knowing what is left to know. Beech and Willow were part of what Prince had left to explore, part of the Beach’s great wealth.

Just as importantly, the Beach was where dogs were usually kept on leashes. This was a relief, because although, like Majnoun, Prince had learned to defend himself, he disliked having to subdue other dogs. For one thing, every dog dominated was one fewer to whom he could speak or teach his language. On occasion, he allowed himself to be bitten, but this was no better. Dogs who assumed they could dominate you made the poorest listeners. Then again, as he got older, it was more difficult to deal with those who were aggressive. So, odd though the thought was to him, Prince was grateful for leashes.

Excerpted from Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis. Copyright © 2015 André Alexis. Published by Coach House Books. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.