The Next Chapter

Andre Alexis on understanding humanity through dogs

André Alexis discusses his novel, Fifteen Dogs, which won Canada Reads in 2017.
André Alexis is a contender for Canada Reads 2017 and a recipient of the Donald Windham–Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize.

André Alexis's novel Fifteen Dogs is about a group of Toronto canines who've been granted human consciousness by a pair of drunken Greek gods. Brothers Apollo and Hermes bet a year of servitude on whether the dogs will be happier than humans, a psychological experiment that ends up being crueller than either of the two gods anticipated.

Fifteen Dogs won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Alexis was recently named a recipient of the 2017 Windham–Campbell Prize for his body of work. 

On Canada Reads 2017, Humble The Poet championed Fifteen Dogs to a win.

Why the novel resonates with readers

I think it's partly the dogs, but I think it's also partly the conundrum of what it means to be human. I specifically don't try to answer that question, but the emotional things — the fact of facing death, the things that are so close to what we understand humanity to be — is, I think, a connection.

On the relationship between dogs and humans

You're looking at the possibility of deep communication between any two beings and also the fact that this is not necessarily a gift. There's a moment in which the narrator talks about how the perfect understanding of someone who is mad would be to be mad oneself. And so the depths of closeness are problematic for a number of reasons. There would be no difference in terms of mental or psychological states. But also to have that closeness in life and to have that broken when separated from the other, must be the worst agony that one can imagine creatures going through. There is irony for me in the fact that the dog that loves the most completely is not necessarily the one that ends up happy. 

André Alexis's comments have been edited and condensed.