Andrew O'Hagan - The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe (3 stars)

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Andrew O'Hagan - The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe

(Faber)

Featuring one of the more florid novel titles of the year, Andrew O’Hagan’s shaggy dog story hasn’t prevented some commentators tipping the London-based North Ayrshire-bred writer as a strong bet to reach the Booker shortlist for the first time since his 1999 appearance with Our Fathers. It’s certainly a story you want to pat on the head, concerning as it does Mafia Honey aka Maf, a Maltese terrier which lived the celebrity lifestyle in early 60s America, being shunted from owner to owner form Natalie Wood to Marilyn Monroe via the angry arms of Ole Blue Eyes himself.

It’s while fielding the loving attentions of Norma Jeane that Maf experiences his greatest highs (though having the hots for Lassie sounds as though it comes a close second), as he is sole witness to many of the doomed star’s hellish trials and tribulations, including some heavy acting classes with Lee Strasberg and a bunch of weighty Freudian sessions on her shrink’s sofa. Along the way Maf comes within a doghair’s breadth to some of the iconic figures of the era including Jack Kennedy, Roddy McDowall and Edmund Wilson and there is endless philosophising about art and humans, all from the viewpoint of this all-seeing pooch.

Many a footnote and some random lists break the flow which might be alluding to the scattergun mind of the average canine. The whole effect is impressive rather than awe-inspiring leaving us feeling that there is a better novel out there which captures the neuroses and paranoias of a woman who defined not just an era but an entire century.

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