Summary and book reviews of The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O'Hagan

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

By Andrew O'Hagan

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2010,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2011,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

In November 1960, Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn Monroe a dog. His name was Mafia Honey, or Maf for short. He had an instinct for celebrity. For politics. For psychoanalysis. For literature. For interior decoration. For Liver Treat with a side order of National Biscuits.

Born in the household of Vanessa Bell, brought to the United States by Natalie Wood’s mother, given as a Christmas present to Marilyn the winter after she separated from Arthur Miller, Maf offers a keen insight into the world of Hollywood’s greatest star. Not to mention a hilarious peek into the brain of an opinionated, well-read, politically scrappy, complex canine hero.

Maf was with Marilyn for the last two years of her life, first in New York, where she mixed with everyone who was anyone—the art dealer Leo Castelli, Lee Strasberg and the Actor’s Studio crowd, Upper West Side émigrés—then back to Los Angeles. She took him to meet President Kennedy and to Hollywood restaurants, department stores, and interviews. To Mexico, for her divorce. With style, brilliance, and panache, Andrew O’Hagan has drawn an altogether original portrait of the woman behind the icon, and the dog behind the woman.

My story really begins at Charleston, a perfect haunt of light and invention that stands in the English countryside. It was warm that summer and the mornings went far into the afternoon, when the best of the garden would come into the house, the flowers arranged in pots and given new life by Vanessa in her fertile hours. She was always there with her oils and her eyes, the light falling through the glass ceiling to inflame the possibility of something new.She had good days and bad days. On good days she set out her brushes and knew the time was right for work when all her memories became like an aspect of sleep.

It was June 1960. The gardener had just brought a tray of foxgloves into the kitchen, the flowers pert but deafened after a week or two of bees. I was sitting in a basket next to the oven when a ladybird crawled over the table. ‘He’s got the knock, innee?’ said the insect, climbing over a breadcrumb.

‘He’s just tired...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Ultimately, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe is an entertaining read, not least for its satisfying glimpses behind the curtain of Hollywood, but it will not be to everyone's taste. This is not a cute story told from a trusty dog's perspective, but a melancholy social commentary about a nation on the cusp of change. It is funny, sad, and earthy, and Maf the Dog, with his remarkable turns of phrase and impassioned beliefs, is a memorable storyteller.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

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Media Reviews
The Scotsman (UK)

If I said this novel was profoundly superficial, I would not want that to be a criticism. It has the strenuous delicacy of a pond-skater standing on water, or a glass of champagne topped up to the rim. ... O'Hagan might, on the strength of this, be the person to break the Booker's fear of funny.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

[T]he novel is a good ride until then, and a touching tribute to a woman whose body was used and abused, who spent much of her short life in what Arthur Miller referred to as “an aura of contempt”, but whose spirit has lastingly prevailed.

The Sunday Times (UK)

"[U]nusual for O’Hagan, Maf the Dog’s narrator (Monroe’s dog itself) adopts a fondly sentimental and rather sanitized stance towards its troubled owner and her self-indulged circle. In O’Hagan’s second novel, Personality, the singing star’s crazy mother was a cracked and fiery presence. Yet he delved deeper into Monroe’s gruesome upbringing and sordid early years in his ten-page essay than he does in the novel.

The Independent (UK)

Maf is privy to Monroe's unguarded moments, and O'Hagan gives an intimate and affectionate account of her. It doesn't do anything so crass as to join in with speculation over her death or love life, but the unusual point of view allows us to see one of the 20th century's most mythologised icons afresh.

The Guardian (UK)

Andrew O'Hagan has taken on the voice of a dog to write a subtle, funny and moving study of America on the eve of one of its periods of greatest crisis. The lonely and sordid death of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 ushered in, did we but know it, not the age of Aquarius but of Thanatos, and the fact that it was a daughter of Eros who had died makes the moment all the more tragic. Maf the Dog, like Lolita, like The Great Gatsby, is a threnody for lost innocence.

Publishers Weekly

O'Hagan's witty novel is packed with allusions, and though Maf gives color and nuance to some historical A-listers, Marilyn, remains unfortunately elusive. This familiar slice of Americana gets a much-needed shaking up from an erudite pooch.

Booklist

Not O’Hagan’s best, but it’s an enjoyable, thoughtful diversion nonetheless.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Monroe fans should devour in one sitting this haunting cross between a summer read and a fall smolderer. Everyone else should read it, too, for its urgent lessons on empathy. Forever and always recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An unusual, quirky and fun read.

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Real Dogs Portrayed in Fiction

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroe creates a believable character in Maf, a character based on Marilyn Monroe's dog. Fiction about or including dogs has a popular and long history. Wikipedia offers an expansive page listing the dogs in literature including Odysseus's faithful companion Argos, and Crab "the sourest natured dog that lives" from Shakespeare's Two Gentleman of Verona. Clearly, fictional dogs are abundant, from children's literature to adult novels; yet Maf the Dog is rare in being one of the few books to depict a real-life dog in fiction. Here are two others:

BobbyIn Greyfriar's Bobby (1912), Eleanor Atkinson tells the story of Bobby, a devoted Skye Terrier who won the attention of ...

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