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Priyanka Bhattacharyya

By Meg Rosoff
Year 2016, pp. 276, Rs. 499.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 11 November 2016

If you know a dog-person, or a human owned entirely by dogs, this is a book you want to share with them straight away. While I was reading Jonathan Unleashed by the luminously witty Meg Rosoff, that peerless writer about children, young folk and dogs, I was casting sidelong glances at my sons, hoping that by some magic, they’d transform into dogs, just for a week or so. Just for a bit, I should love to be in the company of canines like the super-intelligent ‘city’ collie Dante and the sweet-natured spaniel Sissy who light up this book with the ‘Byzantine quality of their inner lives’. Any dog-lover will intuitively respond to second-hand dog-owner Jonathan Trefoil’s concern about ‘the practical and spiritual difficulties of caring for other sentient beings’. Jonathan has stumbled into adulthood, somewhat bewildered at himself for having done so, and is negotiating a perilous work and life situation in New York, of all places on earth. The book commences with quintessential Rosoff-style pokerfaced humour: ‘Jonathan came home from work one day to find the dogs talking about him. They weren’t even his dogs.’ ‘Home’ is a tiny sublet apartment in New York’s Lower East Side; the dogs belong to Jonathan’s brother, who has moved to Dubai. The apartment owner is in prison, due to return any moment. Jonathan’s plight is simultaneously funny and moving: his copy-writer’s job for Broadway Depot, a stationery supplier, leaves no space for creative expression. His girlfriend Julie is an ambitious staffer on a bridal magazine who believes in the power of ‘medium heels, a decent hair cut and solid retirement funds’. Jonathan’s greatest apprehension is that his brother might return from Dubai and reclaim the dogs that are busy sorting his life, in their dogged way: ‘The thought of the dogs leaving was intolerable to him. Once he married Julie he’d be totally alone.’ Rosoff paints a sharply-etched picture of modern dystopia that is both funny and terrifying: Jonathan is adrift in the big city, lost, in every sense of the term. He is oblivious to the merit of what he does, and is assaulted by doubt whenever he logs on. Out of his thwarted imagination is born a cartoon version of the Inferno, with his dog Dante as Virgil. Jonathan and Julie’s wedding is the stuff of modern nightmares: it is ...

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