Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O'Hagan — 288 pgs


Book CoverEven from his humble beginnings in an English farmhouse, Maf is a very special dog. Able to cogitate for hours on the strange proclivities of the humans surrounding him, Maf becomes the companion of one of the most famous women in all of history while still a puppy. When the mother of young ingénue Natalie Wood buys a group of dogs to give away to her favorites, she invites Frank Sinatra to pick a dog for the up and coming film actress, Marilyn Monroe. He, of course, can’t resist the little dog with the heart of gold, and as soon as Marilyn receives him, she christens him Mafia Honey, or Maf for short. As Marilyn glides through her glamorous life, Maf begins to see the fragile and scared woman behind the facade, and as he converses with all the other animals around him, an unflinching picture of the famous personalities that surround him begins to emerge. Rich in philosophical and moral discourse, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog is a surprisingly rich and nuanced peek into the lives of some of the most public faces of the 50’s and 60’s. As Maf shares his deepest and most personal reflections on them, the never before seen world around these once bright and burning stars is expertly revealed.

I have to say this book was hit and miss for me. While I do think the storyline was unique and the perspective original, sometimes the execution left me a little cold. I think the main problem was that there was a lot of name dropping, and while that normally doesn’t bother me, the names being dropped were stars, philosophers and artists whom I knew very little about. This isn’t really a criticism, because I think readers who are more familiar with the personalities of this time would really enjoy the book, and I’m sure readers who are more at home in the world of philosophy would find it entertaining as well. As it was, the book went a little over my head, though there were some really wonderful and astute aspects about this particular story.

First off, the book being written from Maf’s perspective was a very clever device. He was able to see and hear everything and make his own very intelligent appraisals about it all without the those around him (other than the animals) hearing him. This gave the story an almost confidential and secretive feel, because the opinions of Maf were never motivating factors of the book. He was able to see and detect things that eluded his human counterparts, and he was quickly able to assess a situation and draw some very penetrating conclusions that remained locked between the reader and himself. He was sometimes fond of pontificating and had little time for those who were menacing to his owner, particularly Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was not graciously served in this book. He was, in effect, a bully and a ball-buster who used his star power and angry charisma to insert himself into politics and also a spoiled man whom no one thought to check or correct. Maf saw him as insensitive and brutish, an ego-driven and spoiled man with dark forces ready to do his bidding.

Maf’s reflections on Marilyn were also very telling. she was portrayed as very witty and charming but overly naïve when it came to the people around her. The best way I can describe her character was lost and easily swayed. Her drive to be taken seriously and to appear glamorous and high functioning was, in effect, one of her most fatal flaws. Maf doesn’t go into detail about her frightening spiral into the world of drugs or her stints on the casting couch, and surprisingly, the book ends before her untimely and tragic death. From the vantage point we have, Marilyn is reflected with love and is truly endowed with the gravity she deserves.

Another pertinent point is Maf’s observations of the animal world. He speaks at length about his own interpretations on the anthropomorphism animals and of the philosophers that have espoused the same sentiments. A lot of these explanations were interesting to read but went somewhat over my head, though they were grounded in fact. The amalgamation of all of these elements were sometimes portentous and at other times candidly funny, but I had trouble with the immense weight of the implications made by the narrative.

Though this book didn’t entirely work for me in all the areas it explored, I still think it was a very revealing read, and in most ways successful. I think readers of a certain generation would get a lot from this story, and even I had no trouble falling in love with little Maf. I appreciated the creativity and candor of this book immensely, and feel that although it tried to accomplish a lot within a relatively small space, it was clearly a book that made me think differently, not only about the animal world, but about some of the foremost legends in cinema history. A challenging and reflective read.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

21 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds good to me! I have read so much on Marilyn Monroe that I feel quite "familiar" with all the famous people in her life, so I wouldn't be deterred by that. And I love the angle that the dog didn't like Frank Sinatra. If the book is as entertaining as your review, it should be very good indeed!

Geosi Reads said...

I see the point you're making with the name dropping. I am doubting if I would like this book.

Pam (@iwrtieinbooks) said...

Aw, that's a drag that it wasn't totally out of the park it looks so neat, in theory. I think that, often, though books that are so conflicted, for me, are hardest to read, but easiest to review since there are so many talking points. Thanks for the complete review!

nomadreader said...

I'm sorry this one was hit or miss as the premise was so interesting. I do enjoy fiction about real people, but I'm not sure if this one is worth it.

Audra said...

Thanks for the honest, thoughtful review. I was on the fence about this one -- I'm v sympathetic toward MM and wasn't sure what 'version' of MM O'Hagan would portray -- and I'm still on the fence. May try this one, but way later.

bermudaonion said...

The title of this book has made me very curious. I'm wondering if I'm of that certain generation that would love this book. I'm not always crazy about animals who think in books, but sometimes it works for me.

Trisha said...

The philosophy and name dropping sound right up my alley, but I just cannot bring myself to read any books written from the perspective of a pet. It's a serious block for me. :)

Jenners said...

I think dog narrations ar heard to pull off. I think I would have the same knowledge gaps as you as far as some of the names being dropped.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

First of all - LOVING your new look! LOVING IT!! I am still waiting for the blog designer to do some final tweaks for me, so I am jealous!

This sounds like an interesting book and think your honesty in why you did and didn't like the book is refreshing. I do love this time period and the Marilyns, Natalies, and Franks of this time, so I might pick it up!

Suko said...

Another thoughtful and well-written review!

I love the new look of your blog--it's gorgeous! :)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I can imagine it was frustrating if there were many references that were lost on you. I get annoyed when there's a lot of name (or even label)-dropping that doesn't seem necessary.

Now I'm wondering if I've read a book from an animals perspective .. the one that pops into my head is THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN ... but (confession) I haven't yet read it! So many books, so little time ...

And, like others have mentioned, I love your new look! Contemporary, spicy, zingy ... it's all good!

TheBookGirl said...

First, let me add to the voices about your new look -- it's really wonderful! Love it :)

Your review has me very curious...I love the sound of this animal narrator; seems to have a bit of snark to him, which I like. On the other hand, I am a little intimidated by the deep philosopical overtones; I'm afraid that I would miss too much. I am probably of the right age tho, so I may give this a try when I want something that will force me to stretch a little bit in my reading.

Amy said...

Maf sounds like a wonderful & loveable dog but personally I think the celeb names detract from what coulds have been an interesting story, unless, of course, you know the lives of these people...or want to. I also think that there's been so much written about Marilyn Monroe that my initial thought was "more Marilyn?".

By the end of your review I was intrigued by some of this book, especially Maf's thoughts on the animal world and some of the philosophical passages.

btw, I love your new blog look!

It cracked me up, though, that Maf didn't like Frank Sinatra

Vasilly said...

I love the title of this book but it doesn't sound like it's for me. I love the new look of your blog. It's beautiful! :-)

Marie said...

This sounds intriguing to me. I don't know that I'd rush right out but I'll keep it in mind!

Liz said...

Bummed that it wasn't a hit but the plot does sound promising.

Darlene said...

Sorry this wasn't a great read for you. It definitely doesn't sound like one I'd really enjoy.

mowichum said...

Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time.

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Aarti said...

Wow, first of all, great revamp of the blog! I don't know how long it's been since I've visited, but clearly too long if I didn't notice it before :-(

I am not sure how I feel about the whole dog narrator thing. I feel like it's kind of just a ploy to make the book seem more interesting by having a non-human narrate it. I think I'd prefer it to be Marilyn Monroe's secret diary, rather than a dog. I think this is a great time period to read about, but I think I would be like you- not really knowing all the names being dropped!

legesilo said...

Plain and simple! I like your work!

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