My life as a dog min­der


The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Re­becca Dou­glas is an Adelaide-based writer and re­viewer.

Bos­ton-born au­thor Meg Rosoff moved to London af­ter at­tend­ing Har­vard Univer­sity and pro­ceeded to be fired from an im­pres­sive raft of ad­ver­tis­ing jobs (four at last count). Thank­fully, she gave up the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try in 2003 and has forged a much more ac­com­plished ca­reer in writ­ing, col­lect­ing a slew of awards, in­clud­ing The Guardian chil­dren’s fic­tion prize, Carnegie Medal and Na­tional Book Award.

Her first novel, a best­selling dystopian young-adult of­fer­ing called How I Live Now, has won nu­mer­ous honours and been made into a film. Penned in the same year, Meet Wild

Boars is a pic­ture book about an awe­some four­some of disgusting, oink­ing an­i­mals guar­an­teed to set a deliciously bad ex­am­ple for chil­dren ev­ery­where. She has since re­leased sev­eral nov­els and pic­ture books in which teenagers give birth to moose and turn out to be God and God knows what else. Seem­ing to rel­ish mak­ing each work as dif­fer­ent as pos­si­ble from any­thing she’s cre­ated be­fore in terms of style, scope and sub­ject mat­ter, she’s taught us to ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

Jonathan Un­leashed is Rosoff’s first novel for adults. From the out­set, the main char­ac­ter prom­ises to be de­light­fully dys­func­tional — Jonathan is a day­dream­ing man-child who has nev­er­the­less stum­bled into a com­fort­able ex­is­tence. He has man­aged to find a de­cent New York apart­ment, an in­tel­li­gent and at­trac­tive girl­friend and a job at a so-hip-it-hurts ad­ver­tis­ing agency.

The only trou­ble is he’s as suited to this life as a fish wear­ing an over­coat. His liv­ing sit­u­a­tion is semi-le­gal at best, his re­la­tion­ship is based on mu­tu­ally ac­cepted delu­sion and his boss scores an 11 on the mad­ness scale. Plus, it’s the type of work­place where em­ploy­ees flip out and smash com­i­cally large clocks with com­i­cally large sta­plers and the clients are “ducks, quack­ing non­sense in his ears while nib­bling his best ideas to death”.

The fa­cade of ad­e­quacy be­gins to un­ravel the day Jonathan agrees to look af­ter his brother’s dogs for six months. Jonathan be­comes con­vinced his new ca­nine best friends, Sissy and Dante, dis­ap­prove of his life­style and starts pro­ject­ing all man­ner of opin­ions and fears on to them, from the grind­ing te­dium of cor­po­rate life to the sab­o­tage of his re­la­tion­ship, to a re­jec­tion of cap­i­tal­ism and a yearn­ing for a sim­pler, more cre­ative so­ci­ety — “Maybe his dogs hated New York City, with its em­pha­sis on la­bels, money and groom­ing”.

This echoes the in­ner­most thoughts of many of us, and es­pe­cially the sus­pi­cions of dog lovers that our furry friends might just be higher be­ings sent to pro­tect us from our­selves: “Per­haps dogs lacked the in­tel­lect to in­vent dum­dum bul­lets and de­stroy oceans, but Jonathan wasn’t at all con­vinced that this made them psy­cho­log­i­cally in­fe­rior to, or less com­plex than, hu­mans.” At times Jonathan, in ca­hoots with the dogs, sim­ply seems like a mouth­piece for some Very Deep Thoughts. He takes neu­rotic and self-ab­sorbed to dizzy­ing new heights, but al­ways in a supremely lik­able fash­ion. The world re­volves around him and his hang-ups, played out in the health, for­tunes and hu­mours of his ca­nine com­pan­ions.

Per­haps it is an in­ten­tional side ef­fect of portray­ing Jonathan’s self-ab­sorp­tion, but what at first blush might ap­pear to be an eclec­tic sup­port­ing cast of charm­ing mis­fits in the story un­for­tu­nately don’t feel like fully formed char­ac­ters and veer to­wards car­i­ca­ture. Con­se­quently, we miss out on the chance for a deeper con­nec­tion with them, as well as the full force of their hu­mour. The view­point jumps around and is a touch jar­ring at times, but Rosoff keeps the whole out­fit tum­bling along quite nicely with short, punchy chap­ters and gen­er­ous lash­ings of ro­mance and ab­sur­dist com­edy.

Sus­pense is cre­ated by ex­plor­ing what hap­pens when you push avoid­ance and pro­cras­ti­na­tion to the lim­its, de­fer­ring all dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions. For those of us who like to live life in the safety zone, this is a tempt­ing ride and a de­light­ful what-if. Jonathan is not ex­actly fed up with be­ing a re­spon­si­ble adult so much as he never was one at all. He was only try­ing the role on for size and now the jig is up. His world dis­man­tles and we’re keen to see the fur fly, de­spite a nig­gling sus­pi­cion that Jonathan is ac­tu­ally kind of shal­low for some­one who thinks they’re so deep and none of this re­ally mat­ters any­way.

Like its main char­ac­ter, Jonathan Un­leashed is im­per­fect but en­dear­ing none­the­less and will ap­peal to the dog-lov­ing work­ing putz in any­one who longs to break free from the 9-to-5 shack­les, quit their job in a blaze of glory and start over as a comic-book cre­ator, dog groomer or pro­fes­sional day­dreamer.

If only we could be so lucky.

Meg Rosoff has writ­ten her first novel for adults

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