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Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Andrew O’Hagan’s Maf meets some bedbugs

December 7, 2011

I can’t not share at least one humorous little treasure from Andrew O’Hagan’s The life and opinions of Maf the dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe, because I think my review focused a little too much on the serious.

Some of the delights of the book, if you suspend your disbelief, can be found in the conversations Maf has with other critters, such as squirrels, spiders, bedbugs, ants, flies, cats, and of course other dogs. There are some gems, with their point usually being how much more together, or knowing, these critters are than the humans around them. Take, for example, the bedbugs Maf meets while Marilyn is in the Columbia-Presbyterian hospital:

There were bedbugs. I saw them and immediately assumed they were little Karamazovs. I don’t know whether it was the general environment, or the condition of the people they’d been close to, but the bedbugs had a perfectly Russian attitude, seeming to doubt the reliability of everything. ‘We admit it is our time,’ said one of the bugs in a mournful way. ‘Russian values, if we may speak of anything so nebulous and bourgeois as values, are understood, in America as elsewhere, to be a central feature in what we might call the great duality and contradiction of the age.’ He meant the Cold War. ‘The Americans envy us. They are fascinated by Russian literature’.

‘And what has that to do with you?’ (Sorry to have been so rational, but on these visits I’d spent a lot of time around very rational young doctors. And the times were paranoid: I thought they must be spies.)

‘We are weaned in hospitals. In flop houses. In asylums. In cheap hotels and in housing projects. Our soul is Russian.’

‘But you are Americans, right?’

‘No,’ said a tiny voice, ‘we are bedbugs’.

That punch-line says it all! There’s more to unpack in this little interlude … some of which makes more sense in the context of the book. Still, there’s enough here to give you a sense of this kinda-out-there book which, as Maf tells us, continues the tradition, established in prose fiction by Cervantes, of animals speaking about humans.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 7, 2011 6:22 pm

    This does sound hilarious. On my list. I do think humour is greatly under-rated and not at all easy to write. My upcoming novel is well, funny, although while doing edits (and still cracking up thankfully) I did begin to worry that perhaps I am the only one who will laugh!

    • December 7, 2011 11:15 pm

      I think that is the challenge with humour, isn’t it Catherine? It seems way more touchy than tragedy, and I think it can date more easily too. But we need more of it! There’s actually a discussion about comedy in the book. If I find time I might do a post on that too but I suspect I’ll run out of time!

  2. December 8, 2011 2:41 am

    Oh, that is a marvelous passage. Bedbugs as little Karamazovs. Seems quite original to me. A book that can be serious and humorous at the same time is a rare find.

    • December 8, 2011 8:25 pm

      It is isn’t it Stefanie. I couldn’t not share it as an example of the “wickedness” in the book. The Karamzov reference relates to the fact that Marilyn keeps carrying around her Dostoevsky book (though, as Maf tells us, doesn’t read it a lot!)

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