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Walking Into the Night by Olaf Olafsson
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Walking Into the Night (2001)

by Olaf Olafsson

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As an enthusiast of Hearst Castle, I had to read this book just for the descriptions of the Enchanted Hill and life with W.R. Hearst and Marion Davies. I must confess that the book's main character, Hearst's butler Christian, was at times entirely unlikeable. There were moments when you thought that he was redeeming himself, but then he would turn around and do something completely stupid. I had a hard time identifying with him.

Many of the book's descriptions are beautifully and brilliantly written. The wonderful prose of the book is sure to stay with you after you've read it. ( )
  briandrewz | Aug 17, 2015 |
Olaf Olafsson’s Walking into the Night will draw inevitable comparisons to Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, both of which have butlers as their protagonists. While both deal with conflicted manservants’ inner anxieties and failures in the midst of a changing global crisis—Ishiguro’s novel focuses on the build up to the Second World War in Britain whereas Olafsson’s focuses on the years just prior to this in America, emphasizing more the Depression’s impact on celebrities—they are very different in their treatment of their protagonists’ inner lives.



Stevens, in The Remains of the Day, has reflections about his childhood, but his anxieties and stalemates are located uncannily in his place of work. By contrast, Kristjan’s reflections are of a lost world that is no longer available to him geographically or emotionally, except in dreams and memories. I could say more about the two novels' similarities and differences, but I suppose that would then see me repeated the critical move of joining the two so simply and irrevocably. I think that any novel that has a male butler as its protagonist, especially given the brilliant portrayal of Stevens’s conflict by Ishiguro, will always be compared to The Remains of the Day. Ishiguro has, in essence, created a subgenre all his own, then.



To return to Olafsson:



Kristjan is unfailing at his duties as Chief Hearst’s butler, but his nagging conscience, the mistakes that he has made in the past, his regrets and his isolation (not least of which is underscored by his choice to move from Iceland to California, from a job of power to a job of service) soon interfere with his typically by-rote existence at the San Simeon castle.



In stark, spare, and unrelentingly gutting prose, Olafsson shifts the point of view here in a way that gives the reader increasing glimpses into the interior life of his main character, and then by turns to Elisabet, the woman whom he has left behind and to whom he writes letters he will never send. The idea of confession is very intriguing here: how the person to whom Kristjan feels he must confess is the one person he will never see again.

Bleak but beautifully imagined, Walking into the Night is a meditation on love, loss, and the myriad regrets we make as we go on about our lives. Olafsson is a master at rendering place, especially outdoor scenes, and also in insisting on how tiny gestures (the closing of a door, the gathering of blossoms, a finger tracing a lover’s spine) can convey the emotional and psychological states of people more succinctly and accurately than words can. ( )
1 vote proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
This is a beautifully written historical novel is set in the 1930s. Most of the story takes place at San Simeon, California, but the memories of the protagonist, Kristjan, take the reader back to Iceland and on journeys to New York, as well. The vast majority of the book is written from Kristjan's point of view, mostly in the form of letters written by Kristjan to his wife, Elisabet, and they slowly and circuitously give the reader the information on Kristjan's life before coming to San Simeon. For me, that part of the book was most effective and affecting. I was in the moment with Kristjan, even though as the pages increased I grew less and less sympathetic to him. There were a couple of instances in the book where the view suddendly changes to Elisabet's life, and I found that part of the book much less interesting, though she had my sympathy. It felt as if the editor had imposed that on the author in order for the reader to get the story of life back home. I didn't need that story, knowing that the Roaring Twenties had lead to the Great Depression, with worldwide ramifications, I could figure out how things would have gone. Further, the same information could have been easily included in the letter from Hans Thorstensen, which occurs at the end of the book.

That having been said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it reminded me of the two trips I've made to San Simeon and as Kristjan walks around the house and grounds I was right there with him. The complexities of lives of Kristjan, Elisabet, and Klara, and of William Randolph Heart and Marion Davies were many, varied, and true to life. Recommended. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Apr 18, 2014 |
bookshelves: autumn-2013, under-500-ratings, published-2003, paper-read, one-penny-wonder, tbr-busting-2013, dodgy-narrator, iceland, period-piece, north-americas, conflagration, betrayal
Read from November 05 to 07, 2013


9780571219902
Walking into the Night

Opening: The cypress rested in its shadow.

How lovely, this is a softback with a dust cover.

Description from the back cover: 'Olafsson's novel - a gem and small masterpiece - tells the life story of William Randolph Hearst's fictional butler - deftly and grippingly.' Kirkus Reviews

This is somewhat of a biography of W R Hearst, a person who I didn't know much about, at all, so I have been surfing around to check up on details.

There is a clever work-around about the War with Spain issue: wiki states: through his newspapers and magazines, he exercised enormous political influence, and was sometimes blamed for pushing public opinion with his yellow journalism type of reporting in the United States into a war with Spain in 1898.

This book version has Mr Hearst blasting off about one of his reporters who is employed to snoop out society gossip, using his column space to encourage war.

First person narrative rarely works for me, especially so in this case. There is the internal running dialogue, some of it trying out how best to word feelings and rememberances into letters that may never be sent.

AT THE END: After the initial distaste, I warmed considerably to this novel as it unfolded, and because of reading up on additional avenues, found I learnt a lot. Never heard of Marion Davies before:

TBR The Journey Home
3* Walking into the Night ( )
  mimal | Jan 1, 2014 |
good, stars ( )
  CynthiaScott | Jan 21, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375422544, Hardcover)

From the acclaimed author of The Journey Home, a new novel of tremendous power and beauty about a man’s hidden past and about the immutability of love and loss.

For twenty years Christian Benediktsson has led a quiet life as William Randolph Hearst’s butler. His days are filled with the rituals of Hearst’s life and the demands of running a grand house. But in his most private thoughts and memories, he relives another life: his abandonment of his wife and children in Iceland for an actress in New York, a reckless affair and a tragic death, financial downfall, and the profound retreat from life that led him to Hearst’s San Simeon. No one else knows the secret of the man he once was—husband, father, businessman, lover—and, ultimately, even he will choose to forget that this person ever existed.

Walking into the Night is a stunning portrait of a man wrestling with guilt and secret passions. Olaf Olafsson surpasses anything he has accomplished thus far in this wise and beautiful novel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:46 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"For twenty years Christian Benediktsson has led a quiet life as William Randolph Hearst's butler. His days are filled with the rituals of Hearst's life and the demands of running a grand house. But in his most private thoughts and memories, he relives another life: his abandonment of his wife and children in Iceland for an actress in New York, a reckless affair and a tragic death, financial downfall, and the profound retreat from life that led him to Hearst's San Simeon. No one else knows the secret of the man he once was - husband, father, businessman, lover - and, ultimately, even he will choose to forget that this person ever existed."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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