"THERE ARE SEVERAL THINGS every civilized person ought to know about your average dog," the canine protagonist of Andrew O'Hagan's new novel informs us. Chief among them: Dogs hate cats "not for the typical reasons, but because [cats] show an exclusive preference for poetry over prose." Dogs are drawn to rhetoric and prose, and "when it comes to pedigree, each dog worth his mutton is a font of expertise." The title character in The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe is a blue-blooded Maltese; as such, he has both a deep understanding of classic literature and an incongruous passion for Trotsky.

As imagined by O'Hagan, the fluffy terrier was the constant companion of Marilyn Monroe in the two years before her death. The pair mingles with figures like John F. Kennedy, Carson McCullers, and Frank Sinatra; paralleling the parade of historical humans is Maf's interest in a canine reading of history, from the Russian "pupniks" sent into space to Freud's beloved chow.

As though to forestall any complaints about the material's cutesiness, Life and Opinions is packed with literary references and historical digressions; O'Hagan writes jauntily about serious subjects, misfiring only with the clunkiness of certain dialects. But while Marilyn is canoodling with the oddly accented historical figures, Maf remains laser-focused on the moods and needs of his troubled owner, a dog's eye perspective that affectionately contextualizes Marilyn Monroe as both a woman and a symbol.