'Jonathan Unleashed': Meg Rosoff's Novel Exploration of The Dog Days of Adulthood

Dec 13, 2016

The British newspaper The Times once described Meg Rosoff's literary output thusly: "Searingly well written, her books read like Samuel Beckett on ecstasy." Perhaps best known for her first novel, How I Live Now, Rosoff's books often feature a teenaged protagonist exploring what it means to live in a world not of one's own making.

This past June, The Swedish Arts Council awarded her the 2016 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in recognition of her significant body of work in children's literature.

Lake Effect first spoke with Meg Rosoff in 2007, when she was touring the United States with her third novel, What I Was. In the intervening 9 years, she has written four more novels, collaborated on three picture books and finished to great acclaim an unfinished novel by her late friend Mal Peet. And she wrote Jonathan Unleashed, her first novel for adult readers... although Rosoff bristles a bit at that description.

"I just am writing the kinds of books I want to write," she says. "...but I think if you read my body of work you wouldn't say, 'oh my god, Meg has really struck out in a different direction.'"

Jonathan Unleashed is an irreverent and very funny look at what it means to be an adult. Jonathan, who is living the life of a brash young advertising man in New York City, has the job, the apartment and the girlfriend. But somehow it all adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

Rosoff says like Jonathan, most of us find ourselves at this existential crossroads at some point.

"It’s like he’s got this tick list of what it means to be a grown up," she says. "And he doesn’t understand why, even though he’s got all the stuff, he’s so unhappy. And it doesn’t really occur to him that it’s the wrong stuff."

Jonathan eventually figures out at least some of what will make him happier, with the help of a couple of very smart dogs and their veterinarian.

But the book doesn't wrap everything up in a neat package at the end, which Rosoff says is exactly like life:  "There is no 'getting there'. It's the whole process of living. It's figuring out a little more each day what it is you need, what it is you like, what it is that makes being a person worthwhile."