Andrew O'Hagan's "The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe"

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By Louis Bayard
Monday, December 6, 2010; 10:32 PM

THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF MAF THE DOG, AND OF HIS FRIEND MARILYN MONROE

By Andrew O'Hagan

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 277 pp. $24

by Louis Bayard

Andrew O'Hagan's jeu d'esprit washes toward us on a transatlantic wave of praise. It is brilliant, says Roddy Doyle, and moving and very funny. Edna O'Brien predicts it will become a classic. Colm Toibin loves it, too. What does it say about me, I wonder, that I found it a grinding, irksome bore? In my defense, I can only argue that comic novels, by their very nature, provoke a binary response in readers: Something is funny or it isn't, and nothing can persuade us otherwise. I love pretty much everything Dawn Powell or Saki ever wrote, but I still can't make it through "A Confederacy of Dunces" (God knows I've tried) or "Molloy" or Thomas Pynchon's recent picaresques. And I'm afraid I resented every minute I had to spend with "The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe."

Starting with that broadly winking title. The eponymous Maf is our narrator, deeply garrulous and, according to his papers, a Scottish-born Maltese, "the sort of dog who is set for foreign adventures and ordained to tell the story." This particular story takes him to America in the early '60s, where, through a complicated chain of ownership, he is lateraled from Frank Sinatra to America's favorite sex symbol, who has just split up with America's most revered playwright.

Nursing herself back to mental health, Marilyn camps out in an Upper East Side Manhattan apartment and spends her days crawling through long Russian novels, rehearsing scenes from "Anna Christie" at the Actors Studio, visiting her shrink and trying, in some vague but real way, to determine who she is, apart from the world's desires.


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