By Jón Gnarr
Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith
The dark final volume of the former Rekyjavík mayor's childhood memoir-trilogy delves into the brutal, relentless despair of his late teens.
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
In The Outlaw, the third and final volume in his acclaimed trilogy, former Reykjavík mayor and comedian Jón Gnarr returns to face the dark teenage years with his signature humor and candor. Raging with music, poetry, life, loneliness, and questions of right and wrong, Jón, a fourteen-year-old punk rock misfit, is sent to boarding school in the Westfjords region of Iceland. There he decides Crass is the only worthy punk band, discovers an unrequited interest in girls, and chooses drugs and self-harm to cope with mental anguish and intense thoughts of alienation and despair. Two years later he returns to Reykjavík, no longer a naïve adolescent, and recounts the restless years spent drifting through a life of parties, drugs, and anarchy—until it all fades to black. The Outlaw is the devastating anthem to what it means to grow up, to fit in, and to stand out.
"A candid, anecdotal, and lighthearted approach to political speeches is what propelled Gnarr into popularity in the wake of Iceland’s 2008 financial crisis. His Best Party, composed of punk rockers, campaigned on free towels in all swimming pools and a polar bear for the capital’s zoo, among other things.” —Foreign Policy
“This is a really remarkable coming-of-age story.” —Egill Helgason, Eyjan.is
“A fantastically successful description of the adolescent’s loneliness … very funny … An incredible story … extremely good.” —Kolbrun Bergthorsdottir, Kiljan, National TV
“Such pain, intimacy and alienation. This is an utterly incredible book; there isn’t a dull moment anywhere. I have lived in it and I think about it constantly.” —Ofeigur Sigurdsson, writer
“Several times I had to take off my reading glasses and put the book aside in order to fall about laughing.” —Eirikur Stephensen, Herdubreid
“Jon Gnarr’s sincerity is admirable, and some of the narrative is totally priceless … it’s a hugely entertaining book with lots of wonderful stories.” —Einar Karason, writer, DV
“Never before has a book like this been written in Iceland. Sad and good, terrible and incredibly informative. It is truly a game-changer.” —Thorkatla Adalsteinsdottir, psychologist
“A crazy story, so tragic and so funny, unlike anything else. The writer gives so much of himself that he manages to heal old wounds of adolescence as well as make a mother’s heart weep. I wish everybody in the whole world would read this book.” —Audur Jonsdottir, writer
The aircraft lifted itself from the ground at Reykjavík Airport. It was only the second time I’d been on a plane. I’d gone to Norway with my mother and father. I’d never been to Reykjavík Airport—never flown domestically. I had a limited understanding of Iceland in my mind, and was exceedingly oblivious as to its character. I’d taken a road trip around the country with my parents, but everything seemed utterly identical so I couldn’t work out where I was at any given moment. The county felt somehow alien to me. I could conjure up a picture of Iceland but I couldn’t place myself within that picture. I’d gone all the way to Akureyri, but didn’t have a clue where to find it on a map. And now I was headed to Ísafjörður. I knew nothing about the place and was struggling to imagine what it would be like. I guessed the town would be some podunk place like Búðardalur; given the name, it was safe to assume it must always be freezing cold there in “ice fjord.” I bet people had gardens full of dockweed.
All kinds of folk were on the plane, adults and children alike. I didn’t know anyone. An older woman was sitting beside me.
“What’s taking you to Ísafjörður?”
“I’m going to Núpur.”
“The boarding school?
Núpur at Dýrafjörður, to give it its full name? What was it, exactly? I hadn’t seen a picture of the location and had no idea what a boarding school was. I’d never been to such a place. I’d heard stories, though, about kids who’d gone to the boarding school at Laugarvatn, and it sure sounded fun. A mix of being in school and living in a commune. You had a fair amount of freedom, everyone was good friends, and there was plenty of booze. I hoped it’d be like that at Núpur in Dýrafjörður. But Núpur was probably some storage depot for delinquents, some sort of care home that primarily catered to troubled souls. I didn’t quite know if I was a delinquent, but I was close to being one, at least. Delinquents were like me. Although we might not see ourselves as troubled youths, others did. Núpur at Dýrafjörður…the name itself sounded ancient—almost like a foreign language.
I found it fascinating to fly over Iceland and see it from the air. The skies were clear that day so I could see right across the country. Snow-packed mountain slopes, fjords, and then some black blots that were definitely wildernesses…or highlands. I’d never been to the highlands but I’d sometimes heard about people in the news who got lost there. The highlands were dangerous places. Especially in winter. One time, I went camping with Mom and Dad and the family of a man who worked with my father in the police. I had no clue where we were and we had to spend the night in tents and the adults drank alcohol. One guy was really funny; he told me a story about the time he and my father headed to a spring up in the highlands to retrieve the body of a man who’d gotten stuck there over winter. The man was lying face down, and when they arrived they saw that ravens had pecked his ass clean off. The guy told the story like it was the funniest thing; he said it a good job the corpse was face down or the ravens would have gotten his face, taken his eyes, nose and lips. I totally agreed: the lesser of two evils, just, would be to have ravens eat my asshole and not my eyes. It seemed a bit nicer to let ravens peck at your ass than your eyes. They guy burst out laughing and called out:
“Kristinn, remember how much trouble we had getting that body into the car? He was frozen stiff, solid as a rock.”
Dad nodded, smiled faintly, and didn’t laugh. He clearly didn’t find it as amusing as his friend did. Perhaps he felt uncomfortable that I was hearing the story. The highlands were no-man’s land, a place no one should go. From the air, they struck me as desolate, black, bereft of humans as far as the eye could see. The friendly lady sitting next to me told me she had not been to Ísafjörður in a long time. She was headed to visit her family. She talked about some places and mentioned some names I didn’t know. The woman tried to explain to me where her family lived and I nodded my head at regular intervals and uttered the occasional “oh, yeah, got it” like I was able to put it all together in my head and follow what she was saying. Önundarfjörður? I had no idea whether it was the name of a fjord or a company. I let the situation keep going this way, nodding as though I knew what the hell she was talking about.
Jón Gnarr was born in 1967 in Reykjavík. He formed the Best Party in 2009 and became the mayor of Reykjavík in 2010. His acting work includes the movies The Icelandic Dream and A Man Like Me and the television series The Night Shift, which aired on BBC4. As a child, Gnarr was diagnosed with severe mental retardation due to dyslexia, learning difficulties, and ADHD. He nevertheless overcame his hardships and went on to become one of Iceland’s most well-known actors and comedians, and published the first two volumes in his fictionalized autobiography in 2006, The Indian, and 2009, The Pirate (the third volume, The Outlaw will be published in Iceland in fall 2015–Deep Vellum will publish the trilogy in full in 2015-2016).In late 2009 Gnarr formed the joke Best Party with a number of friends with no background in politics. The Best Party, which was a satirical political party that parodied Icelandic politics and aimed to make the life of the citizens more fun, managed a plurality win in the 2010 municipal elections in Reykjavik, and Gnarr became Major of Reykjavik (there’s a great documentary on Gnarr’s campaign, which introduces you to Gnarr’s unique and inspiring personality, called Gnarr). His term as mayor ended in June 2014 and he plans to use his post-mayor years to continue writing and speaking on issues that are most important to him: freedom of speech, human rights, protecting the environment, and achieving international peace. Now that his term as mayor is complete, he has moved to Texas to focus on writing, speaking on issues he holds most dear (world peace, sexual and gender equality, freedoms for writers and journalists), and performing stand-up comedy again