What better time to read Jonathan Unleashed than when you’re about to start your final semester of university and are a bundle of frayed, hassled nerves, dreading the fact that adult-life cannot be put on hold anymore? This novel, following the newly graduated Jonathan Trefoil, truly pulls on all the right heartstrings, and the plot unfolds with a speed that perfectly conveys the rush with which life seems to move in this age. To be sure, Meg Rosoff pulls off a novel that both reveals something utterly unexpected, on every other page, as well as leaves you feeling at one with Jonathan in his boredom at work and the dread that you are not doing what you are supposed to: what you were meant to become is not being realised, it’s just some fantasy, filed away in a storage room more and more likely to be forgotten. Rosoff writes all of this superbly.
Further, Rosoff is to be praised for the way she writes some of this novel’s characters, in addition to Jonathan, as they certainly spring to life. Greeley, for example: the non-binary, androgynous character (at least from Jonathan’s point of view, achieved by using the singular pronoun ‘they’ when referring to Greeley. The way Rosoff addresses Greeley’s character as well as their relation to Jonathan makes me feel like I am having a conversation with someone I trust. I know there won’t appear a slur out of the blue, or something else belittling this character, and that feels safe.
Another thing that likewise makes it seem that Rosoff just, simply put, gets me, is the way Jonathan falls in love with people so easily and quickly – he develops crushes so extreme that he manages to imagine a whole life with them in the blink of an eye. It’s a personality trait I might be biased to enjoy in writing, because of recognising myself in it, but honestly, it works. Trust me. I, too, want a life with Clémence, the French woman providing Jonathan with croissants and greeting his dogs every time he enters the bakery.
Those dogs, Dante and Sissy, are two important characters in this novel, mirroring Jonathan’s behaviour and thoughts – very cleverly so in Rosoff’s writing – it is as though it is both consciously and unconsciously happening, on Jonathan’s part. The border collie and the cocker spaniel move the plot forward in an interesting and refreshing way. When Jonathan seemingly channels his own depression and listlessness into his dogs (as the veterinary suggests), it is yet again so extremely easy to relate to this character. (I sometimes think there is a lack of well-rounded characters in the genre Jonathan Unleashed belongs to, but this novel truly doesn’t disappoint.)
This is Meg Rosoff’s first adult novel – previously she has written for young adults and children. I can recognise that playfulness and creativity, that love with which she creates the story and its inhabitants, from literature for younger readers, and I do applaud her for letting that love be so apparent on every page. However, I cannot quite decide whether this background of Rosoff’s is the reason for how it, unfortunately, is not a very resonating, ground-breaking novel. This is my one point of critique; I don’t think I will remember much of this novel in a couple of months. There were no moments for me where I had to put the novel down to take a deep breath because the writing was just too succinct, too real. There were no moments where I had to pause, scramble for a notebook or scrap paper on which I could rapidly scribble down a quote, because the words were just too beautiful. However, since I read the book in one go, in one night, and smiled the whole way through, perhaps it wasn’t necessary. It is a good, heartfelt, and kind read. It is a novel which comforts you, for the time being.