The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

One of the most tedious books I’ve had the misfortune of reading, “The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog” by Andrew O’Hagan is told from the perspective of Marilyn Monroe’s beloved dog. As a socialist and Trotskyist, Maf short for Mafia Honey, is a bichon maltais presented to Marilyn Monroe by Frank Sinatra shortly before her death. The pooch with his insight and absurd humor portrays the life of a troubled Hollywood star in 60’s, commenting on general environment of America in Kennedy’s era.

The dog is well-versed in arts of philosophy and literature, history and politics. He has an acute sense of understanding human motivations and can decipher their thoughts well before they are manifested physically. Maf is deliberately crafted as a comical yet reliable narrator through whose lens we witness the tragedy of American culture. His aphorisms are amusing and philosophical, but which failed to make a mark on me as a neutral reader with no strong affiliations with the history of Hollywood.

The book is written in stylistic prose, typical of Americanism, doused with Hollywood references which completely evaded me. Which begs the question: who is this book really intended for? The writer failed to inspire in me even the faintest of concerns for Monroe and her ordeals. Other characters like Natalie Wood, Frank Sinatra, Monroe’s therapists seemed more or less to be mere caricatures of their real selves which once again relinquished my interest in what could have been a more wholesome portrayal. I was untroubled by their associations and personal issues that ailed them. As a reader, I knew a certain kind of fame was attached to these names but that was the extent of identifying them with glamour and Hollywood. I never cared for Monroe’s life, and having read this book, my stance remains unchanged.

Wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, save those with considerable interest in the life a deeply troubled megastar whose name became a brand in itself in later years, symbolic of either the nostalgic image of what a woman was or should be, mental illness and suicide, or convoluted feminism.

  • People have no head for miracles. They are pressed into shape by the force of reality, a curse if you ask me. But never mind: I was lucky to have my two painters, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, a pair who, for all their differences, shared a determination to dream the world they lived in and fashion it into permanence
  • The second is that we usually hate cats, not for the typical reasons, but because they show an exclusive preference for poetry over prose
  • Like most people who don’t say much, Walter was always being quoted for what he did say
  • We Maltese – we bichon maltais, the Roman Ladies’ Dog, the old spaniel gentle, the Maltese lion dog, or Maltese terrier – are suffered to know ourselves to be the aristocrats of the canine world
  • Mrs Higgens, as she spoke, was looking at me with a brand of self-pity, the kind that imagines other people’s lives are always more exciting than their own
  • ‘To thine own self be true,’ said the bard. Yet in all the animal kingdom, only humans consider integrity to be a thing worth worrying about.
  • Unlike humans, we can hear what people are saying to themselves, and we can sniff illusion
  • Frank’s needs always came out like urgent threats, but the boys seemed glad to have them and happy to oblige, their handsome young faces readily opening up to Frank’s abuse and the heavy tips that were sure to follow
  • Marilyn was a strange and unhappy creature, but at the same time she had more natural comedy to her than anybody I would ever know. More comedy and more art. Not for her the stern refusal of life’s absurdities: Marilyn had a sensitivity to jokes and moral drama that would have delighted the chiefs of psychoanalytic Vienna. It didn’t take long for her to become my best friend.
  • Some women need a fully accompanying silence to help them speak
  • We allow the human story always to take centre stage: that is what makes a dog the perfect friend
  • It depends on a suspension of the instinct merely to propagate oneself. One must leave parts of oneself dormant in order to succeed as a good friend
  • Trotsky said there is no place for self-satisfaction at the point of revolution.’ ‘Stop yapping, Maf,’ she said. ‘Be quiet now. Quiet. Gee. What’s got into you today?’
  • Disposability is the new permanence
  • She became a lonely woman entombed by her past, eager to talk about what had mattered and what was gone
  • Those of us who tell stories are committed slaves to the past’s dominion
  • A waiter came with another round of drinks and I was reminded of a certain English habit that I deplored – the upper orders arguing in favour of radical politics while their servants set down their tea in front of them
  • In those years your politics was the story of how you defined the individual against the power of the state
  • To me the beach is an unfixed term on a roasting spit, a stifling penance, the water out there a border of pronounced anxiety. It’s not always easy for a dog to know where self ends and owner starts, but my thing about water made me realise that Marilyn’s fears were different from my own.
  • There was a sense of things concluding in a spirit of possible renewal, which might, on balance, be the saddest sense in the whole world
  • When someone tells a joke, a great number of Americans have a tendency to say ‘that’s funny’, while Europeans have a tendency to laugh
  • Who were these people anyway, who could invent life on the screen but couldn’t begin to live their own lives?
  • I wondered whether cats weren’t really the most intelligent of creatures. Sufficient unto themselves, they turned solitude into a great and sustaining thing, while dogs and men, in order to be happy, needed each other.
  • In the society of the future, Trotsky wrote, all art would dissolve into life. That is how the world would know good philosophy had triumphed. No need for dancers and painters and writers and actors: everyone would become part of a great living mural of talent and harmony.

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