I’m a huge Marilyn fan but was at first skeptical of this book: The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe. A book from the point of view of Mafia Honey, the dog Marilyn owned in the last years of her life, seemed like such a novelty. But I was surprised by what this book actually was.
In the vein of Sam Savage’s Firmin, our narrator Maf is wordly, philosophical and political (a Trotskyist) and most definitely literary-minded. His beginnings were bohemian, in the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. In his ensuing adventures with Marilyn he comes across many writers and intellectuals including Allen Ginsberg and Carson McCullers. Not to mention Hollywood figures like Frank Sinatra (who gave Marilyn the dog), Natalie Wood, Elia Kazan and Shelley Winters (to name just a few).
If you already have an interest in early 1960s America — a time of great change and wonder (think: space travel, drugs, UFO sightings) and specifically in literary, filmic, philosophical and political matters, there is a lot here for you. If you know a little about the Actor’s Studio and Lee Strasberg; if you know a little about the people around Marilyn such as her analyst Marianne Kris and later doctor, Dr Greenberg (and have an interest in psychoanalysis or at least its hold on the era), again, there is much here for you. And if you like dogs — there is certainly much here for you. The book is packed with asides and footnotes of dogs in history, dogs in literature and dogs on film and TV.
If you wonder how Maf is so knowledgeable, O’Hagan has an answer for that. He imbues dogs with absorbent, intellectual, empathetic souls. They can understand any language, can read thoughts and moods (though of course cannot see colours). Cats speak in poetry, while dogs speak in prose, which is a nice touch.
What this means is that Maf becomes a kind of omniscient narrator — attuned to the stories, memories and emotions of characters, expressing them through the taint of his very specific (and charming, I thought) personality. I didn’t always agree with Maf’s assessments of Marilyn (Marilyn fans get like that), but I did find his observances of Strasberg, Sinatra, Kennedy, and many other characters hilariously spot on.
I thought this would be a light book. But while it’s funny, it is definitely an intellectual read. I thought it was simply darling.