Publication Date: 2010
Category: Very funny literary fiction narrated by a dog.
Who'll want to read it? Dog lovers, Marilyn Monroe fans and anyone needing both a good laugh and an education in how dogs know the things they know.
Point of no return: From the very first page I knew I would be finishing this book: "It was warm that summer and the mornings went far into the afternoon, when the best of the garden would come into the house.." and then "I was lucky to have my two painters, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, a pair who, for all their differences, shared a determination to dream the world they lived in and fashion it into permanence. And what a blessing it was to paddle about on those Sussex flagstones and chase the yellow wasps, turning slowly into lovely me, the sort of dog who is set for foreign adventures and ordained to tell the story."
What's it all about? The last two years of Marilyn Monroe's life from the perspective of Mafia Honey, a Maltese terrier given to her by Frank Sinatra in 1960. It is a tender portrait of both Marilyn and Maf as well as "who's who" and "what's what" of the early 1960's in the USA. As Maf explains, a dog's biggest talent "is for absorbing everything of interest - we absorb the best of what is known to our owners and we retain the thoughts of those we meet. We are retentive enough and we have none of that fatal human weakness for making distinctions between what is real and what is imagined. It is all the same, more or less."
Maf's "puphood" is therefore spent absorbing the knowledge of his various companions, from breeder, housekeepers, buyers and visitors. He has a great knowledge of psychotherapy, history, art, world literature, Communism and his beloved Trotsky.
One of my favourite conversations occurs while Marilyn is at the Columbia-Presbyterian hospital: "There were bedbugs. I saw them and immediately assumed they were little Karamazovs... the bedbugs had a perfectly Russian attitude, seeming to doubt the reliability of everything. 'We admit it is our time,' said one of the bugs in a mournful way. 'Russian values, if we may speak of anything so nebulous and bourgeois as values, are understood, in America, as elsewhere, to be a central feature in what we might call the great duality and contradiction of the age.' He meant the Cold War. 'The Americans envy us. They are fascinated by Russian Literature.'
'And what has that to do with you?' (Sorry to have been so rational, but on these visits I'd spent a lot of time around very rational young doctors. And the times were paranoid: I thought they might be spies.)
'We are weaned in hospitals. In flop houses. In asylums. In cheap hotels and in housing projects. Our soul is Russian.'
'But your are Americans, right?'
'No,' said a tiny voice. 'We are bedbugs.'
The book is near perfect and deserves any prizes coming it's way - it is intelligent, poetic and captivating. For all of the book's laugh out loud humour it conveys a wonderful appreciation of Marilyn Monroe and of how hard she worked towards her goal of being taken seriously. Anyone who doesn't love Marilyn now will be in love with her at the end of the book.
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Listen to Andrew O'Hagan on the ABC Radio National's The Book Show.
Watch the book trailer on You Tube.
PS Andrew O'Hagan will be in Sydney for an Out of Season Sydney Writers' Festival Event in March 2011. I've already bought my tickets!