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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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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 |
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. ( )
  proustitute | Mar 31, 2013 |
good, stars ( )
  CynthiaScott | Jan 21, 2010 |
Olaf Olafsson never disappoints! This novel develops from an usual perspective: that of an Icelandic man who becomes butler to William Randolph Hearst.

It has been about 25 years since Kristjan Benediktsson left his wife and family in Iceland, suddenly and with no explanation. Christian, as he now calls himself, has a checkered past that is revealed slowly, throughout the novel, in Olafsson's signature style. Must of what we learn about Christian is from letters that he writes to his wife--letters that he will likely never send. Is he expiating his guilt, trying to explain himself to Elisabet--or to himself, or is he simply trying to maintain some connection to his past?

After the dissolution of his old life, Christian takes a position as manservant/butler to "The Chief": William Randolph Hearst. The year is 1921, and Hearst is spending much of his time at what we know as Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, California. The Ranch, as Hearst prefers to call it, becomes a retreat for the rich and famous, and for an Icelander with a secret past.

It is interesting seeing Hearst portrayed through the eyes of an employee. As Hearst's butler, Christian has a formal yet intimate relationship with his employer. I would like to think that the briefly sympathetic glimpses of the Chief show a side of him that really existed. Meanwhile, we see how he manages his house, his staff, his lover. As Christian prepares for parties, guests, and everyday life at the Ranch, we learn about how Hearst collected the furnishings and art to fill his castle, the daily menus that were printed for guests, and similar fascinating tidbits.

Meanwhile, the title of the book foreshadows the life of the man from Iceland: Kristjan's slow walk into the night, with portents of hiding, forgetfulness, darkness, and oblivion.

"The Chief is calling. Sometimes I think everyone is afraid of him except me. I'm afraid of nothing but myself."

And,

"I'll always be a stranger here, so there is little to remind me of what I miss..."

As the book draws to a close, will we learn if Christian's wife Elisabet is alive, is forgiving? Will he be confronted by one of his children? Will he allow his past to live again in the present?

This is a beautifully told and ingeniously organized tale, with a memorable protagonist. Don't, ever, miss an Olafsson book. ( )
  darienduke | Jul 30, 2008 |
Very nicely written ruminative story about an Icelandic man who leaves his wife and children in Iceland because he fell in love with a woman in NYC. But then she died after her second abortion and he went to work as Randolf Hearst's butler. ( )
  bobbieharv | Apr 8, 2007 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:23 -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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