Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe, is a mix of sweet and sad, lighthearted and philosophical. Fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood will be intrigued from the beginning, as the story begins with some major players. Mafia Honey, nicknamed “Maf”, is a gift from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe, purchased from Natalie Wood’s mother. Each character is critiqued with the shrewdness of a psychologist.
While it is a book about a dog, it’s not just for animal lovers. Maf is astute, observing everything around him in his simple but philosophical way. He may be the only dog with thoughts ranging from declaring Douglas Sirk a “master of artistic charm” to analyzing the works of Freud and Kafka. Most of the dog’s inner workings are seen in footnotes throughout the book, some of which take up a quarter of the page. It seems as though almost every character or piece of dialogue is thoroughly dissected. While these observations are often funny and accurate, each page is full of them and they can get overwhelming.
O’Hagan’s done his research and it shows. The dialogue is perfect, from Sinatra’s outbursts to Marilyn’s quiet musings. A conversation between former President Kennedy and Marilyn at a party, although imagined, reads as though it could be a transcript. O’Hagan has a way of setting a scene and making it believable, no easy task when the characters involved have such public images and private affairs.
The story chronicles the aftermath of Marilyn Monroe’s divorce, visits with her shrink, possible affairs with Sinatra and J. F. Kennedy, as well as her inevitable decline. All of this is narrated in Maf’s sweet, observant tone. While the scenes may not be groundbreaking historically, the guesswork is entertaining and will interest fans of the characters and time period.