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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

Apr 01, Maggie rated it really liked it Shelves: book-club-read , new-to-me-author , translation , library-copy , world-literature-reading-group , maggie-sicelandic-reading.

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This is a beautifully written historical novel is set in the s. 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 suddenly 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.

Sep 06, Karolina rated it really liked it Recommends it for: An enduring person.


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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 In the last pages of this book where it finishes, it starts again The devotion and forgiveness of his wife is amazing too, and I realized I'd be stuck in the same blindly hopeful cycle with someone I love. This is a book hard to rate. Apr 30, Lucinda rated it it was amazing Shelves: contemporary-fiction , scandinavia-iceland.

Review to come I am still digesting some thoughts on this fantastic book. Sep 15, Carol rated it it was amazing. I started reading this as part of a push to read as much about Iceland as possible before a trip. And then had to set it aside because of the trip. The main character in this story was every bit as complicated and lacking in insight to his own behavior, and yet I found myself hoping he would find peace.

That added a little to it for me because I remember visiting that place as a child - what an absurd display of opulence! But it was a different time. I see that most people are less enthusiastic about this book, but I recommend it. You do have to go into it understanding that people are who they are and even deeply flawed people have a good side. Jul 26, John rated it liked it. 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 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.

Readers who like novels that have happy endings and answers to unresolved questions may be disappointed with this book; however, the beautiful prose of Olaf Olafsson provided this reader with a rich experience and I look forward to reading more of his works. Apr 05, Carol rated it liked it. Three stars because the writing is calming, lyrical, quiet, gentle. However, I got bored half way through, read some reviews here on Goodreads, and decided to abandon the book.


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  5. I had hoped to learn more about Hearst, but at least to the halfway point he is simply a peripheral character. Jul 06, Vivian rated it liked it. The writing style itself was interesting, with all of the movement between time.

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    Although this is a quiet book where not very much happens, I found it difficult to put down. Dec 09, Brenda Richardson rated it really liked it. Engrossing story and beautiful writing about an interesting coward. So-So Read Found this a bit scattered and weird. No exciting disclosures from San Simeon. Heard his other books are much bettet. Jul 28, Francine rated it really liked it. This book is full of personal conflict Lots of mysteries, eccentricities and tenderness set in the era of movie development in California.

    Mar 25, Gail M rated it liked it. I'm not sure "I liked it" is how I'd rate this, but two stars is a little meager Mar 15, Harriet rated it it was amazing. I loved this book.


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    6. Beautifully written, wonderfully imaginative while being based on the actual letters never sent. Peek into the lives of the uber rich Hollywood and publishing big wigs. Apr 01, Beth Asmaa rated it it was amazing. 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.

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      In California, the reader 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. In California, the reader meets Hearst and Marion Davies. Though Davies makes more than an appearance in the novel in relation to Hearst, the Wikipedia article better illustrates her film career.

      The book's themes range from flying like a bird and drawing birds to persistent memories and reinventing oneself. Mention of the book's title comes on page "I couldn't say goodbye to you. I couldn't bring myself to. I left during the night while you were all asleep. Walked out into the darkness before dawn, stepped into it, vanished. With his wife, his adult son, with his tycoon employer, he would evade discomforting truths. At the same time, his assertive actions can and do save the day more than once.

      Memories catch up with him, motivating his unsent explanatory letters, until word of his heroic butler's deeds reaches the characters who want to find him.