The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, And of His Friend Marilyn Monroe is not your run-of-the-mill contemporary novel, and not just because the eponymous first-person narrator is an aristocratic Maltese terrier with Trotskyist tendencies, owned by the greatest icon of the 20th century. It’s an extraordinarily articulate engagement with the nature of celebrity and America’s theatre of dreams, and has, only a couple of months after publication, struck a rather inevitable chord with Hollywood.
‘Yes, it’s been bought by a film studio, and production is gearing up just now,’ says a rather bewildered-sounding O’Hagan, speaking to me during a week in which names like George Clooney and Naomi Watts were rumoured to be attached to the project. ‘People just seem to want to take it off the page and make it live, this book, perhaps because there’s so much life, so much theatricality and performance already in it.’
Those particular qualities, and the way people have reacted to them, have led O’Hagan to investigate alternative ways of presenting the novel at public appearances. At Charlotte Square Gardens he’ll be joined onstage by the actors Ian McDiarmid, Andrew Hawley and Suzanne Bertish, playing the various legends – Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Natalie Wood, Carson McCullers and the drama teacher Lee Strasberg amongst others – who dance across the narrative. O’Hagan will be playing the Scottish-born Maf the Dog himself, of course.
‘This book is so full of voices I felt it would be a real treat if people could hear them, and rehearsals so far have been sensational. Ian McDiarmid doing Lee Strasberg is worth the ticket price alone.’ McDiarmid and O’Hagan have worked together before: McDiarmid both adapted and starred in the National Theatre of Scotland production of O’Hagan’s last novel Be Near Me. It seems perfectly designed for an Edinburgh International Book Festival programme which has sought to break down the traditional ‘literary’ event, and O’Hagan reveals that that’s no accident.
‘Nick Barley has a very contemporary mind: it’s natural to him to see cross-currents between art forms and try to make the festival a home for all those other disciplines that have writing as a central plank, and that certainly chimed with this book. I think I also wanted to do something, in Edinburgh; just a moment to pause and recognise the performability, before it goes off to its next incarnation, its next life, in the movies.’
15 Aug, 11.30am (solo event), 5pm (with Bill Clegg), £10 (£8).