Mafia Honey was the dog that accompanied Marilyn Monroe for the last two years of her life. He was a present from Frank Sinatra, who stalks sharp-suitedly through Andrew O’Hagan’s generous and clever comic novel scattering indiscriminate largesse and threats. This book, Maf’s so-called memoirs, is a spirited picaresque that digs deep into the myths and legends of Fifties and Sixties Hollywood, still under the shadow of the McCarthyite witch-hunts. Set-piece after set-piece stages dense and witty debates between figures such as Frank O’Hara, Lee Strasberg, Carson McCullers, Shelley Winters, Sammy Davis Jr, Natalie Wood and a procession of blank-eyed mafiosi who each introduces himself as ‘Frank’s lawyer’. Critics and politicians fence at parties, the Kennedy administration grinds into power at the margins of the narrative, and audiences applaud as Monroe’s star describes its fatal downward arc.
But according to the aristocratic socialist Maf (for whom Trotsky ‘showed us all creatures are servants and every creature is master of the servant in himself’), true eloquence belongs to the animals. All the dogs are street sages, novelists and playwrights, assimilating human culture by generational telepathy and