Review: JONATHAN UNLEASHED by Meg Rosoff (Bloomsbury/Viking)

RosoffM-JonathanUnleashedUKA sometimes endearing NYC novel…

Jonathan Trefoil’s boss is unhinged, his relationship baffling and his apartment just the wrong side of legal. His girlfriend wants to marry someone just like him – only richer and more organised with a different sense of humour. 

On the plus side, his two flatmates are determined to fix his life – or possibly to destroy it altogether. It’s difficult to be certain as they only speak dog.

Poor Jonathan. He doesn’t remember life being this confusing back in the good old days before everyone expected him to act like a person. But one thing he knows for sure: if he can make it in New York City, he can make it anywhere.

Will he get out of advertising, meet the girl of his dreams and figure out the gender of his secret crush?

Given how it’s going so far, probably not.

I had high hopes for this novel. It was getting a lot of positive buzz and reviews, and so when it popped up on sale on Amazon, I decided to give it a try. Despite some amusing and very well-written passages, the novel ultimately did not live up to the hype.

Jonathan Unleashed began quite well — it was an endearing, slightly off-kilter take on the young-man-trying-to-make-it-NYC story. The eponymous protagonist is living in a small apartment, with a landlord of sketchy and unknowable legitimacy. He’s working at an advertising company staffed by eccentric, unusual and sometimes endearing characters. Jonathan himself is a slightly neurotic wannabe writer, struggling to find his place and take the first steps on his real career.

RosoffM-JonathanUnleashedUSThe novel is filled with great lines and amusing asides. However. The novel also features a few of the less-good tropes common in this type of novel. For example, the male protagonist is exactly the kind of strange and unusual (in the first half – more on this in a moment). The main character’s girlfriend/fiancée is a borderline-horrible person — self-involved and disapproving of everything the main character likes, wants and does. We are left wondering, as always, why the two are actually together. Later on, there is another potential love interest thrown into the mix, and of course there are doubts. It’s all rather… predictable.

The second half of the novel, however was a bit of a disaster. As is also typical of this type of novel, something weird has to happen. Jonathan Unleashed embraces this trope with gusto. It just goes off the rails. Yes, the protagonist has a breakdown, so maybe it’s meant to reflect his state of mind. He gets word salad. I laughed once — and it was a well-earned laugh, to be fair. But basically, this novel just became annoying.

I really don’t know what else to say about the book, to be honest. Started well, then collapsed completely in the second half. The story was just irritating towards the end, ruining all the good feelings I’d built up towards it in the first chapters. The frequent good lines and turns of phrase were not enough to save it, unfortunately. A real pity. I wanted to like this.

*

Meg Rosoff’s Jonathan Unleashed is out now; published by Bloomsbury in the UK, and Viking in North America.

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