Book Talk: Life and times of Marilyn Monroe's dog

Wed Dec 22, 2010 5:44am EST
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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Maf, short for "Mafia Honey," is an opinionated, well-read, feisty Maltese terrier. Originally a present from Frank Sinatra, he belongs to Marilyn Monroe.

He is also the narrator of Booker nominee Andrew O'Hagan's latest book, "The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe," a romp through the United States in the early 1960s and the last two years of Monroe's life.

On the surface a broad departure from O'Hagan's earlier work, on things such as growing up working-class and Catholic in Scotland, the book allowed him to pair a long Scottish tradition of animal tales with Monroe, who fascinated him from boyhood.

Maf perorates on literature, philosophy, and anything that takes his fancy. His world, peopled with cats that speak in elaborate poetic forms, bedbugs with mournful Russian souls and giddy Nabokovian butterflies, took O'Hagan years to create.

O'Hagan's obsession with authenticity nearly got him into trouble with police in California when they found him crouching down outside houses to see things from a dog's perspective. He spoke to Reuters about his latest work and being a novelist.

Q: Somehow the dog and Marilyn Monroe came together?

A: I've always been interested in bringing worlds together if I can. I think every writer is a synthesizer and if we're any good we try to bring things into coalition which are sometimes unexpected. This of course is much more stark. I mean, Marilyn Monroe -- jeez. Even I was surprised.

If you want to see contradictions, I'm talking about a great number, impacted in one woman. Someone who seems so beautiful, yet so exposed to ugliness; someone who seems so lucky, and yet so lacking in fortune. Someone who seems so alive yet so redolent of death. Someone who seems to some extent to be so happy and so optimistic, and yet is somehow almost secretly a repository of what's sad and what's pessimistic. She carries all those things into the public space in one person.

Part of the purpose of this book, to tell you the truth, was to try to rescue this person from the size of her iconography -- in a sense, to bring back the woman. And I thought that only a dog could look at her with affection and without, as it were, their own selfhood getting in the way. Marilyn once said men used her and women judged her, and only the dog loved her.   Continued...