Armann, Helena, Daniel and Gunnlaugur; ‘friends” from university get together for one last hurrah, a ptarmigan bird hunting trip in the eastern part of Iceland. This is a quick, but intense and atmospheric read. Translated from the Icelandic language, Jonasson focuses on each character’s perspectives. As the story begins, they are caught in an unexpected blizzard, and looking for a hut that Armann may or may not know the location of.
So, what makes all four friends cry out in shock when they successfully find the hut and go inside? It is difficult to talk about the story because of spoilers, but I will say it is not what I thought it was. Armann is a tour guide, and while none of them are exactly hunters, he has planned and executed this well thought-out trip as a time for everyone to reconnect. As the story progresses, we find each character is more unlikable than the next. Helena, bitter over the loss of her boyfriend, Vikingur, is holding many dark secrets. Daniel, an unsuccessful actor, has put on the act of a lifetime in the portrayal of his success. Daniel’s friend Gunnlaugur, an alcoholic accused of rape, is not even sure why anyone invited him as he is not well-liked, nor particularly treated well by any of them. And we have Armann, a recovering addict, now CEO of a huge empire of tour guides and outdoor excursions, who is a mastermind at manipulation. As the story progresses, we go from the viewpoint of each of the four characters, over and over. Knowing their thoughts and viewpoints, each one is more horrible than the next. Almost immediately, the feeling that something is very wrong on this trip is not lost to the reader, and a testament to how well Ragnar Jonasson wrote this novella. There is a definite foreboding of things to come, and so it becomes a page turner.
When Helena and Daniel set out to find another cabin with a radio in it, Helena becomes injured and encourages Daniel to find the cabin on his own and leave her. But what of Armann and Gunnlaugur, and their intense dislike of each other? Their initial jolt of surprise at what they find in the cabin turns to fear and anxiety as they cower in a corner. With no food, very little water, and no sleep, tempers explode and the unthinkable happens.
The chapters of Outside are short and to the point, while each one being more intense than the next. As each narrator’s story unfolds, the reader will realize all the secrets, resentment, and jealousy being held back. One reader said it is a wonder why any of them went on this trip. You can feel the tension in the pages and are just waiting for everything to explode. And the ending is explosive, without answers, leaving the reader to wonder what just happened.