This week our Vintage Librarian reviews a novel that looks at Marilyn Monroe and those of her early Sixties Hollywood circle – Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood – from a rather unusual dog’s eye view.

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan
Faber & Faber, £18.99 hard back

I’m always rather dubious when it comes to novels that are narrated from an animal’s perspective, especially when the pet in question – in this case a Maltese terrier – wildly quotes Plato and discusses modern psychoanalysis with his fellow pups.

It is true that Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn a Maltese, which she ironically named Mafia Honey – shortened to Maf – and it’s Maf’s perspective on his famous owner and those around her that we follow. The book sets out in the Bloomsbury Set’s Charleston Farmhouse, where Maf gets his first dose of literary theory and witnesses all sorts of shenanigans until he is given to Marilyn via Natalie Wood’s bizarre Russian mother and Frank Sinatra.

Although at times rather cliche in its depictions (an English sheepdog for example, speaks in a ‘jolly old-fashioned’ way, the rats are strange New York hoodlums), I quite enjoyed this gentle, slightly melancholic, if not homage-like look at Marilyn’s life, which by the early Sixties had rather unravelled: her marriage to Miller had failed, she was suffering from depression and still searching for critical acclaim.

This isn’t by any means a biographical approach to Marilyn’s life but a clever, well-written story set in Sixties Hollywood that never forgets the triviality and tragedy of human – and canine – life.

Photograph: Bettmann/CORBIS

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