I’m a sucker for dog books, so I was thrilled at the chance to read Meg Rosoff’s Jonathan Unleashed. A down-on-his-luck New Yorker with a dead-end job and aimless relationship with his girlfriend, Jonathan Trefoil’s life perks up slightly when his brother has to go abroad to work and asks him to look after his dogs for six months.
Dante the border collie and Sissy the cocker spaniel are just absolutely loveable characters with distinct personalities, and by far, the best parts of this novel. At Jonathan’s office, for example, Dante is the doggy “boss” who directs employees back to work after breaks, and Sissy is the doggy version of Miss Congeniality, who always makes people feel good just by curling up beside them.
Jonathan is clearly unhappy with his life, and projects a lot of his own emotions on the dogs. Early in the novel, he takes them to see a vet ostensibly because he’s afraid they’re feeling cooped up and depressed, though it’s fairly obvious that it is actually Jonathan himself who is suffering from boredom and discontentment. Enter the cute and dog-loving vet Dr. Clare, who (alas) has a boyfriend but (hurrah) also seems to be the dogs’ pick for matchmaking with their person.
The dogs are clearly the stars of this book, and the humans’ stories pale slightly in comparison. There’s a bit of comedy over the lameness of Jonathan’s account at his marketing agency, and I actually really like the people in Jonathan’s office, from his incorrigible best friend Max to his womanizing nonsensical boss, and especially the gender ambiguous executive assistant Greeley, who is the smartest in the bunch and very wisely advises Jonathan to quit for a better job. Jonathan’s girlfriend Julia is presented as supposedly a complete nightmare, but I felt bad for her and wanted her to find a handsome high achiever who would be a much better fit for her.
Jonathan is set up as an everyman type of figure, a loveable loser type, but honestly, I was mostly annoyed by his whining and spinelessness, and his projecting all his ennui and frustration on the dogs was more eyeroll-worthy than quirky cute. The section where he suddenly develops aphasia seems meant to be quirky funny, a comedic representation of how trapped and helpless he feels in his current life and romantic relationship, but for me, the joke grew old fast, and the resolution of this subplot was just too, too obvious. It got to the point that I almost wish someone like Greeley or Max could take the dogs home, just so Dante and Sissy wouldn’t have to put up with all of Jonathan’s whining.
Still, the dogs are fantastic, and I’d love for a Dante and a Sissy to be hanging out at my workplace.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.