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Monday, 28 December 2015

Last minute picks for 2015! Fifteen Dogs and The Door

These two books didn't make it onto my top books of 2015 list, but only because I hadn't read them yet. I wanted to slip in some praise for these titles before the new year arrives and we become occupied with 2016's releases instead.

I read both André Alexis' Fifteen Dogs and Magda Szabó's The Door (translated by Len Rix) in the waning days of this year and loved them. Though written in different decades (Szabó wrote The Door in 1987—the translation is more recent), and in different countries, I felt that they were in conversation with each other in some ways, not just because I read them side by side. Each is thoughtful and strange, full of both love and horror—especially the horror of what humans (or dogs with human consciousness!) do to each other in the grips of attachment and power, dependence and fear.

Fifteen Dogs won this year's Giller Prize, deservedly. Alexis imagines the fates of fifteen dogs who are given human consciousness due to the whims of the Greek gods Apollo and Hermes, who bet on whether or not the dogs will die happy or miserable with their newfound awareness. Needless to say, things get dark as the dogs struggle with their in-betweenness. Being suddenly neither fully dog nor fully human, how must they now live?  

The Door has been much discussed this year, because it has been made available in North America by NYRB Classics, who rarely let me down. I couldn't help thinking of Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Novels and Days of Abandonment as I made my way through this haunting story about the difficult love between a young writer struggling against communist censorship and her elderly maid, who, it turns out, is no one's servant and has a disarming will and morality of her own. Set in postwar Budapest, The Door's narrative exists within the lingering sense of horror felt by Hungarians after the Holocaust, and its protagonists' fates seem hopelessly entwined with the history of their country.

Read them both!

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