Saturday, November 27, 2010

Marilyn Monroe and Maf her dog

I'm on my way, in the snow, to return two library books: the moving "Cigar Box Banjo," by Paul Quarrington, and the astonishing "The life and opinions of Maf the dog and his friend Marilyn Monroe," by Andrew O'Hagan, whom I heard at Harbourfront in the program celebrating Eleanor Wachtel. I liked him a great deal and ordered his book immediately, and now will have to take it out again and read in more detail, as there's too much to take in on first reading.

It's quite brilliant, narrated in the voice of the small dog given to Marilyn by Frank Sinatra (Maf, short for Mafia.) O'Hagan has recreated the Fifties, the narrative peopled with the famous of that time, fully alive and talking non-stop. I don't know how he managed to incorporate so much research and bring the era and its phenomenal personalities to life; the book is not only clever in that way, but the dog himself is incredibly well-read, highly educated and fascinating. He speaks of the "mannered simplicity" of Hemingway, the tiresomely "infinite prettiness" of Renoir.

Here are a few passages:

'To thine own self be true,' said the bard. Yet in all the animal kingdom, only humans consider integrity to be a thing worth worrying about. I grew up in the golden era of existentialism, so you'll forgive me for finding the whole idea of a self that one must be true to a little ridiculous. We are what we imagine we are: reality itself is the supreme fiction.

Good human relationships depend on an instinct for tolerating and indeed protecting other people's illusions: once you start picking them apart, taking down their defences, reducing their plan for survival, making them smaller in their own eyes, the relationship is as dead and gone as the Great Auk.

I wondered whether cats weren't really the most intelligent of creatures. Sufficient unto themselves, they turned solitude into a great and sustaining thing, while dogs and men, in order to be happy, needed each other.

'Dr. Kris once told me about a letter she got from Anna Freud,' [Marilyn] said. 'I distinctly remember a phrase Kris quoted from it: "One never really loses a father if he was good enough."'

My owner hugged me and looked into my eyes. I was still thinking of Milton. 'Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth,' I said. 'Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep.'
'Good dog,' she said.

Highly recommended.


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