The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe, by Andrew O’Hagan, Faber RRP£18.99, 279 pages

Maf is short for Mafia Honey, the Maltese terrier that Frank Sinatra gave to Marilyn Monroe to cheer her up after her split from the playwright Arthur Miller. Born in Scotland and raised under Vanessa Bell’s roof at Charleston before being brought to America by Natalie Wood’s dog-breeder mother, this preternaturally well-educated canine is the unlikely narrator of Andrew O’Hagan’s fourth novel. Well, perhaps not so unlikely: in this fictional universe even insects discuss Nietzsche.

Maf is both a sympathetic portrait of Monroe and a study of America on the brink of losing its innocence. But, as the title – which alludes to the shaggiest dog story of them all – suggests, this is a tale that’s as much about digressions as anything else. The sum is a sort of Dr Doolittle for the chattering classes: laced with aphoristic wit and, depending on one’s tolerance for talking mutts, deliciously, or off-puttingly, arch.

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