The assorted crowd which filled near the entirety of the Davis Theatre spoke volumes to the emotional impact of John Grogan’s acclaimed novel Marley and Me. Originally a loving autobiographical based on the wacky and wonderful lifetime of Marley- an energetic and often mischievous labrador. Grogan’s life-long love for his dog captured the hearts of millions worldwide and the novel has sold more than two million copies and has been translated into roughly thirty-seven languages. The hosts of the event; the School of English and the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing, thanked Grogan for his time and outlined a few of his many accolades, mentioning not just Marley and Me but also emphasising the success of Grogan’s 2008 memoir The Longest Trip Home, which triumphed as a national bestseller within the States.
Grogan took to the stage with the ease of an experienced public speaker, immediately diving into the origins of Marley and Me. As a journalist, Grogan felt that if he was ever to write a bestselling novel it would surely be based on a world disaster, scandal or tragedy, yet his greatest story was curled up at his feet at home!
Marley, like all dogs, was a stereotypical energetic puppy, with the exception that his playful and frequently destructive tendencies never truly diminished as he devoured and shredded all in his path of life with ”beaver like efficiency.” With a troublesome nature that not even obedience class could tame, Marley was a “hurricane” within the Grogan household, causing mayhem wherever he turned. Yet despite his disastrous nature, Grogan’s affectionate smile and easy laugh illustrated the joy it brought him to recount some of his old pets misadventures. These included Marley’s failed efforts to escape a journey to the vet’s by jumping out a car window, or ‘The Marley Mambo’, a tell-tale sign that Marley was chewing on something he wasn’t supposed to be, including Jenny Grogan’s gold chain, which seemingly showed up three days later, shinier than ever!
The room was frequently filled with laughter at what Grogan debated to be perhaps the world’s worst dog. But more so than that, Grogan went on to demonstrate that Marley was much more than a troublesome ball of golden fluff, but a pure-hearted, loyal “gentle giant” filled with optimism that shone through in moments where it was needed most.
One such event entailed the miscarriage within the family, in which “human-canine empathy” prevailed as Marley sensed the unsung pain of the family and did what he could to comfort his grieving owners. The story of the stabbing of a young girl outside the family’s home demonstrated Marley’s protective nature, as he stood guard over the survivor, protecting her from a fleeing assailant like a true guard dog.
The comradery between man and dog lasted until the end, as did Marley’s troublesome behaviour, Grogan fondly noted. Sniffles could be heard within the crowd as Grogan recounted Marley’s final day, as Grogan drove his old friend to the vet one last time. Departing with his lifelong friend, Grogan gave his dog the words he had never earned: “You are a great dog.” During his thirteen years, Marley had undoubtedly wreaked havoc, but he had also taught the Grogan’s more than simply how to live with constant chaos. Marley’s life left powerful lessons on the “value of commitment” and learning to love someone unconditionally, despite their flaws.
With his last words leaving a tremendous impact on the audience, Grogan took a seat to begin questioning by Deirdre Manning of The Oscar Wilde Centre. Focused on the span of his career, Grogan highly emphasised the importance of truth within his writing and how to maintain that, outlining that “memory is not enough.” Grogan praised the effectiveness of journaling for his success, particularly towards his memoir, which he claimed was essential for capturing how he felt when he felt it.
The floor was then opened to the audience to ask the writer what they pleased, as the eager crowd delightedly did. Perhaps most touchingly was the final question posed to Grogan- “Did you ever get another dog after Marley?”
With a humorous smile, Grogan nodded, revealing the origins of the Marley predecessor, who John and his wife Jenny first encountered as a puppy on the film set of Marley and Me. And Woodson has been with the family ever since- although not the world’s worst dog, he’s certainly the laziest!