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Walking Into the Night

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  216 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
As butler to William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon castle, Christian Benediktsson lives quietly, almost invisibly. He completes his tasks efficiently and with aplomb, catering to the whims of the volatile Chief and overseeing the running of the hectic household. Privy to the goings-on of the celebrity guests who visit as well as to Hearst’s intimate relationship with his m ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 12th 2004 by Anchor (first published 2001)
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Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this book in my attempt to read more Icelandic authors, but the majority of the novel is set on William Randolph Hearst's property in California. The main character works for Hearst as a butler. Half of the book is his letters to his wife, who he abandoned in Iceland with the children, taking their money.

The story is told in a somewhat circular way between the letters and the present-day drama that I felt disconnected from both, and in the end you are merely where you started somehow.
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 di ...more
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. ...more
Sep 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: An enduring person.
In the last pages of this book where it finishes, it starts again... This is a real sad story, mostly because it is very real. I can feel this man's guilt, and ignorance, and at the same be horribly angry with all the things he's done. The most shocking bit is reading those last pages, and realizing this is what we do, and this is what I do again and again, like this man will: Deal with a problem indirectly, being too afraid to face it, and continue running from ourselves. The devotion and forgi ...more
Review to come ... I am still digesting some thoughts on this fantastic book.
Jul 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sad story about a man (Christian Benediktsson) who, without notice, leaves his wife and four children in Iceland by 'walking into the night' to begin a new life in America.

We all understand that the decisions we make in our lives have consequences. For Christian, the consequence of his decision to leave his family is an unfulfilled life that is burdened with guilt.

Readers who like novels that have happy endings and answers to unresolved questions may be disappointed with this book; however, th
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is full of personal conflict...struggling with the self is a powerful thing. Lots of mysteries, eccentricities and tenderness set in the era of movie development in California.

Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the poetic language in this book, the cast of historical characters, the era between the world wars, and the bold freedom of the protagonist. His faults and introversion as well as his accomplishments and polite charm aggravate and awe the reader. For reasons probably only the protagonist knows, he surprisingly leaves his Icelandic family and the family's profitable business for a New York romance before taking on the job of butler to William Randolph Hearst. In California, the reader ...more
Sorayya Khan
Walking into the Night is a novel about love and loss in the wake of terrible decisions. Kristjan Benediktsson is a father and a husband of four children in Iceland when on a business tirp to New York (circa World War I) he falls in love with an actress and his life changes. Eventually, from one moment to the next, he abandons his previous life and its incarnations and gives himself fully to a newfound love that will be his downfall. After his love affair and its tragic end, he becomes the butle ...more
This is an extremely sad and very well-written novel, based on the life of an Icelandic man who ended up as the butler for WR Hearst.

It is very sad because the main character makes choices in his life that affect everything. He is definitely not a bad man. His fatal flaw is believing he can find happiness. And, he has definitely never been slated for happiness.

Sadder yet, not one of the secondary characters ever find real happiness either - not Hearst, not Marion Davies, Hearst's mistress, not
Malo sam se osecao odviknutim za visok nivo pesnicke proze koju ova knjiga poseduje i to mi je u prvi mah predstvljalo teskocu, dok se nije ispoljilo njeno puno znacenje u celokupnoj strukturi romana. Njena funkcija je u osnovi povezujuca i ublazavajuca. Povezuje bolne nedorecenosti medjuljudskih odnosa i ublazava sve teske konsekvence njihovog toka. Buduci da glavni junak pokusava nesto saopstiti zeni koju je nekada napustio, putem pisama koja drzi u svom stolu i ne nadajuci se sasvim da ce ona ...more
Jeansue Libkind
Jun 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Since reading the author’s brilliant The Journey Home, I’ve wanted to read more from him; this was no disappointment. Again we have an unapologetic person examining long-ago decisions. Christian is not a likeable man; he has left his wife and children in Iceland and come to the US for the love of an exotic dancer, an equally unlikeable character. Left alone, he finds his solace at San Simeon, running the estate of another unlikeable character: William Randolph Hearst. With no one around to win M ...more
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very solid book that kept me reading despite the plot not being linear. It is a very lyrically written that is more about memory and emotions that following the usual plot leading to climax with actions bringing you there. You learn quite a bit about Christian, his feelings, his regrets, and bits of his history. You learn about the family he left behind and why, just not all at once. You get the feeling he wants to right the wrong but is too much of a wandering spirit to be able to do so. You ...more
Sally Spratt
If you don't want to know how this book ended - do not read my review. I picked up this book because of the fact that the main character worked at Hearst Castle for Mr. Hearst and Ms. Davies. I felt a little let down at then end, because there is really no closure. I liked the main character at first, then I didn't - I went back and forth throughout the whole book liking, not liking. I thought, well maybe he'll come around at the end...but he didn't. As the title says "Walking into the Night," t ...more
Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Olafson's protagonist shifts so gracefully between the memory of his loves and losses and his present occupation as William Randolph Hearst's butler at San Simeon castle that I'm looking forward to reading his other novels. He details emotion exactly as it appears on the outside, and his prose has a Nordic starkness and sensibility that creates its own gravity and acing. The movement between guilt and passion, mourning and lyricism, was subtle enough to show Olafson knows exactly what he's doing ...more
Jun 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2010
The past starts to catch up with a man who has spent years working as a butler since he abandoned his young family. Although the descriptions of time and place were beautifully made I struggled to empathise with the main character. I didn't feel that I understood many of his decisions, maybe this was a point the book was trying to make - that sometimes we make seemingly illogical decisions that we cannot explain.
Randal S
Jun 08, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"The leafy shadows vanished from its back..." Is indicative of the book itself, it's just a shadow of a book, no meat, marrow or bones, nothing to chew on. I continually felt like it could be a much richer story than it was, especially with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst as a peripheral character.
This book reads beautifully. Tells the story about a man working as a butler for a famous man in America, looking back on his life, the family he abandoned in Iceland, the love he lost in NYC, with strong symbolism and an intriguing story. I loved it.
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting novel, the repression the characters feel reminds me of the book REMAINS OF THE DAY, where it becomes agonizing that they are unable to express themselves. This book is entertaining, sad, and ultimately stays true to itself.
May 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure if I've read a book that was as lyrically written as this one. Olafsson is a masterful weaver of words. It is as if he is communicating to us in the language of silk about things that are heaviest and most painful to us. It's breathtaking writing.
Jan 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a beautiful, elegiac book. I loved reading about San Simeon and Iceland and characters who felt very true. Olafsson is wonderful with setting and character.
Aug 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent writing ... so moving yet so uncluttered ... well done. Interesting views on Hearst and the that era as well.
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating look into the lives of two very unusual men: the protagonist, and William Randolph Hearst.
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A man can leave the places of his past but they do not leave his soul. When faced with challenge, we do the things we have always done, even when we do not know why.

Beautiful prose.
Nov 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely love this book.
Jun 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! One of those up-all-night-to-finish books. And then when I finished at 4:00am, I was wide awake wondering WHY?? This reminded me quite a bit of Remains of the Day.
Oops. I finished this weeks ago. I don't know if I have the neurons right now to pull together a review, but I really enjoyed this.
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a well written beautiful book full of sadness and some regret. It explores the impulses and human folly in life that lead to destruction, but also about surviving after those decisions.
Jan 21, 2010 rated it liked it
good, stars
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Olaf Olafsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1962. He studied physics as a Wien Scholar at Brandeis University. He is the author of three previous novels, The Journey Home, Absolution and Walking Into the Night, and a story collection, Valentines. His books have been published to critical acclaim in more than twenty languages. He is the recipient of the O. Henry Award and the Icelandic Literary ...more
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