REVIEW by Willard Manus
Punk, the hero of THE OUTLAW by the Icelandic writer Jon Gnarr. The third
and final volume of Gnarrs autobiographical trilogy, THE OUTLAW
tells of the misadventures of a 14-year-old misfit who, having been booted
out of house and school, ends up in Nupur, a private institution in a
remote part of Iceland.
Poor Jonsi has a rough time here as well. The other students cant
understand why he loves punk rock and believes in anarchism (it
was by far the cleverest structure for society). To keep from getting
beat up by them, Jonsi becomes the class clown. My remarks and humor
were never badly received, he writes. Everyone loved Jonsi
Punk. Jonsi Punk was always fun. He was witty and always jovial. And though
he was a prankster, he was a good one. I often parodied popular songs
and got lots of laughter, even from those who liked the songs.
Privately Jonsi was a very different kind of kid, one who suffered from
bleak thoughts of alienation and despair. He drinks, uses drugs, and thinks
of killing himself (wandering around in my own world and fading
out until I didnt exist anymore. I could well imagine dying like
The kid manages
to keep going, though. He survives excessive masturbation, failures with
girlfriends, the discovery that he had a deformed prick (it was
all bent and crooked and stupid), and being treated badly by his
teachersexcept for the new drama instructor, who felt he was a born
actor and cast him as the lead in a school play which was so successful
that it went on tour.
Jonsis triumph is short-lived, though, owing to a slight mishap
that occurs in the village of Flateyri, where the cast was put up in a
parish house which had an American-style convenience shop: exotic and
After having considered the splendor for a short time, I kicked
open the door to the shop and tramped into its bounty, Jonsi confesses.
We looked about and grabbed candy, drank coke and chain-smoked until
we emerged red-eyed right before sunrise.
End of his drama career, end of his time at Nupur.
Thats not the end of his picaresque adventures, though. Jonsi strikes
out on his own, briefly becomes a communist, works and fails at various
menial jobs, loses his virginity to an older woman, and comes to love
the once-hated Beatles. He continues to battle the world but, unlike most
other disaffected rebels, never becomes bitter or violent. He also--quite
surprisingly--sticks to his own personal code of ethics. He respects women,
hates pornography, refuses to take part in a drunken gang-bang (you
shouldnt fuck girls who dont know youre fucking them).
In short, he grows up: Jonsi Punk becomes Jon Gunnar Kristinsson.
a series of epileptic seizures can halt his march to manhood. After a
stay in hospital, he emerges feeling calm, determined, even reborn. Ill
be something, he tells himself. Im going to be someone.
Im going to make up stories and Im going to write poetry.
Im going to create and Im going to reveal everything. Im
not going to allow anyone to stop me having the right to be me. And Ill
never give up. Im finally free.
The author of THE OUTLAW has a similar profile. Gnarr spent much of his
childhood receiving psychiatric treatment, but then went on to become
one of Icelands most popular actors and comedians. In 2010 he ran
for mayor of Reykjavik...and won.
(Translated by Lytton Smith, published by Deep Vellum. deepvellum.org)