three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-The Life and OpinionsAndrew O'Hagan is a Scottish author whose works include The Missing, Our Fathers (1985), and Be Near Me (4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2007). His books have been short-listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction, the Esquire Award, and the Whitbread First Novel Award.

The Story: Two years before she died of a mysterious drug overdose, Marilyn Monroe acquired a Scottish-born Maltese terrier named Mafia Honey. Mafia Honey, or Maf, was a gift from Frank Sinatra, who thought the puppy would cheer the Hollywood starlet after her divorce from playwright Arthur Miller. Not only was Maf devoted to his sad-eyed mistress, he was well-read, an experienced world traveler, and a connoisseur of fine perfume, specifically Chanel No. 5. Through Maf, we meet the people who made up Marilyn's world--her friends, enemies, and lovers--and learn the private, often painful details of her final days.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 277 pages. $24. ISBN: 9780151013722

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Andrew O'Hagan ... has floated up his version [of Marilyn Monroe] with brainy elegance and set it skimming off on an oddly original course. ... [Maf's] voice, affectionate but cool, gives a stoic account that manages to be more moving than any quantity of anthropocentric tragedy-churning." Richard Eder

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The author, although he largely has the measure of her ... is plainly in thrall to [Marilyn Monroe], and his narrative, so measured and sceptical elsewhere, rises to the level of rhapsody when he is writing about her. ... Maf the Dog, like Lolita, like The Great Gatsby, is a threnody for lost innocence." John Banville

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] marvelously entertaining, smart and insightful look at stardom, loneliness and loyalty. ... Maf the Dog is a picaresque, the episodic adventures of a charming rogue, in a style both satirical and lyrical." Colette Bancroft

Telegraph (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"In this memoir of his life with Marilyn, her pet offers a startling insight into Hollywood, psychotherapy, politics and literary in-fighting, as well as a private portrait of one of the world's most famous and troubled women. ... The terrible pathos of the human and canine condition is never far from the glittering surface of this marvellously imaginative, clever, entertaining and profoundly melancholy novel." Jane Shilling

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]f you start asking yourself how did he read all these books, when and in what language, and how did he even manage to turn the pages, then this is probably not a book for you. ... For the first 50 pages or so I resisted too, but gradually I was won over and willingly suspended my disbelief." Geoff Nicholson

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Maf's so snooty he probably has one of those plummy, conceited voices, like Stewie. And if that weren't bad enough, he's constantly name-dropping all these writers and philosophers--he's just trying to remind us that he's an educated terrier, not some spoiled little Hollywood pet, carried around like a handbag on the arm of an actress." Michiko Kakutani

Washington Post 1 of 5 Stars
"What does it say about me, I wonder, that I found it a grinding, irksome bore? ... To his credit, O'Hagan has sidestepped whimsy, but he has wholeheartedly embraced pretentiousness, and if that's not a laugh killer, I don't know what is." Louis Bayard

Critical Summary

"Good book. Good dog," (St. Petersburg Times) was the general consensus from critics, who had begun reading Maf the Dog with extreme skepticism. Who could blame them? That said, reviewers in the United Kingdom were able to suspend their belief far more easily than those in the United States. But in the end, most were won over, or at least entertained, by this canine memoir. While critics described it as witty, elegant, and original, they also acknowledged that awareness of both Hollywood, high literary culture, and the 1960s is helpful when navigating Maf's thoughts. One exception to the solid reviews came from the Washington Post critic, who begrudged every minute spent with that "pedantic pooch." Be forewarned: even those who enjoyed the book admitted it wasn't for everyone.