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  • Walking Into the Night
  • Written by Olaf Olafsson
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  • Written by Olaf Olafsson
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Written by Olaf OlafssonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Olaf Olafsson

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43009-0
Published by : Anchor Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

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 mistress, the actress Marion Davies, he is the picture of discretion. An extremely private man, those around him know nothing of him or his life. And so it is in his thoughts and in unsent letters to his wife back in Iceland that we witness the unraveling of his former life, which began when he abandoned her and their children for an actress in New York City. Once a successful businessman, he erases his past and himself after a sudden tragic death and his financial ruin, the result of a jilted lover’s vengeance. Walking into the Night is a stunning portrait of a man wrestling with guilt and secret passions.

Excerpt

The cypress rested in its shadow.

He tripped on the steps up to the main building but managed not to fall. Fuchsia blossoms met his eye as he straightened up; azaleas beyond them. He walked over to the cypress and leaned against it while he caught his breath. He was hot in his black suit in the afternoon sun. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a white handkerchief to mop his brow and pat his cheeks. Fairweather clouds hovered on the horizon, while closer to shore gleaming ripples tossed back and forth. He sensed a breeze, and suddenly a sharp whistling sound passed through the trees and a bell clanged in one of the towers. Once, then silence. He noticed a hint of lavender as he put the handkerchief back in his pocket and continued on his way.

The Chief had mislaid his magnifying glass. Kristjan--or, rather, Christian Benediktsson, as he had called himself since coming to this country during the Great War, twenty years ago--had spent the morning hunting for it in the old man's bedroom and on the balcony outside, in the gothic library next door and down in the reception room, Þrst by the teletype machine, then on the jigsaw-puzzle and chess tables, but without success. He had paused in his search for a moment when the teletype suddenly began to hum, and hesitated before the machine, waiting for the message the Chief had been expecting.

"What on earth can have happened to that magnifying glass, Christian?" asked the old man as his butler handed him the telegram and reported his failure. The Chief glanced at the message, then went to the window and said: "Unless I left it outside yesterday."

Kristjan thought he remembered seeing his employer wandering around the previous afternoon with a book in his hand, Dickens, he believed, as it had the same leather binding as the collected works. Oliver Twist had been lying on the Chief's bedside table yesterday morning but was there no longer, so it seemed likely to have been the one. He had looked round all the guest-houses, by the Neptune Pool, in the billiards room, where he remembered seeing the Chief sitting for a while before sunset yesterday, by the fountain with the statue of David, and in Miss Davies' room, though she hadn't been there for over a week and wasn't expected until next weekend, when the Chief was planning a costume ball.

Had he thoroughly checked by the swimming pool? He stopped in his tracks, trying to remember whether he'd looked under the table on the side where the old man usually sat. He didn't move on again until he'd convinced himself that he had missed nothing.

The magnifying glass was of medium size, with an ivory handle gilt-embossed with the Chief's initials: WRH. He had borne it a grudge ever since the Chief fell asleep in his poolside chair last year with a book on his lap, the magnifying glass clutched in his right hand over an open page. Kristjan had been in the house fetching a cold drink for Miss Davies when he heard the screams.

He set off immediately at a trot, trying to balance the drink on its silver tray, through sunbeams and shadows, and dropped the glass at the sight of the Chief lurching to his feet with his jacket in þames. The book lay burning on the edge of the pool at his feet but he was still clutching the magnifying glass. He seemed dazed with sleep, so Kristjan grabbed him round the waist and leaped into the pool with him.

It was remarkable that the Chief had only slightly singed the back of his right hand but otherwise escaped unharmed. Once he'd grasped what had happened, he stroked his shirt where it had caught Þre, and said:

"Where were you?"

Kristjan put an arm under his shoulder and helped him up onto the side of the pool, where Miss Davies was waiting for them. The gardener and two girls from the kitchen, who had rushed out when they heard the screams, now retreated out of sight so the Chief wouldn't realize they had witnessed his humiliation.

"Where were you?" he repeated.

"He was just fetching me some lemonade, dear."

She helped him indoors while Kristjan swept up the charred remains of the book and picked up pieces of glass from the path where he had dropped the drink. He worked methodically, taking care not to cut his Þngers or burn himself on the still smoldering book. Oliver Twist, a Þrst edition, bound in light-brown leather. Before going inside to change, he emptied the water from his shoes.

Kristjan quickened his pace. The hunt for the magnifying glass had disrupted his day. He pulled the watch from his pocket and squinted at it. Half past two. Monday-May 17th. "San Simeon, May 22nd, 1937," was engraved at the top of the menu for Saturday night's dinner. He'd found two spelling errors and had them corrected. The Chief's shoes were waiting to be polished and he still had to make a clean copy of the guest list for the costume ball. A cool draft sneaked from the shadows, and for a moment he imagined someone was breathing on his neck. He started.

"Klara," he whispered. "Is that you again?"

It was by accident that he found it on his way back to the house. A glimmer caught his eye on his way past the four statues of Sekhmet, the lion-faced Egyptian goddess of war and battle; a þicker on the balcony behind her. What a relief! He couldn't wait to bring it to the Chief.

He wiped the dust off the handle and polished the glass with his handkerchief as he hurried back to the main building. It was getting cooler but he didn't notice. In the distance the sky was darkening. A whistling breeze swept over the hill but the cypress caught it. The bell clanged. He knew the Chief would be pleased to see his magnifying glass again.

He lay on his back covered by a thin sheet. It was still hot; he slept naked. The window was open but in the corner a dim light burned; he had switched it on before getting into bed. For years he had been unable to sleep in the dark.

The lion in the Chief's zoo had been restless tonight. He imagined it pacing in its cage. In his dream he saw fog over the bay and mist on the hillsides; in the moonlight it looked like newly fallen snow.

He slept lightly, his hands resting at his sides. The glow cast by the lamp crawled up the sheet, fading out over his chest and leaving his face in darkness, apart from a splash of light on his forehead. He was nearing Þfty but people still commented on his striking looks. Fair, broad shouldered, of medium height, his hands powerful despite the long, Þne Þngers. He still had to restrain his thick, wiry hair.

His room was two doors down the hallway from Mr. Hearst's bedroom. He had not spent a single night in the servant's quarters since he Þrst came here, for the Chief wanted him close by. He usually slept with his door ajar so he could hear if the old man called for him. Tonight, however, he had shut it as Mr. Hearst was away and not due back until tomorrow. But Miss Davies had appeared just before supper, taking everyone by surprise. They had thought she would be in Los Angeles until Friday. She was alone.

Tomorrow morning a ship was due to dock at the San Simeon quay, carrying iron, cement, and steel. The Chief had asked him to supervise the unloading, as he suspected he had been cheated on the last consignment. Kristjan was looking forward to spending the day down by the sea.

The smell of the ocean came through the window and he turned his head towards it as if he sensed it in his sleep. The Þngers of his left hand twitched a little, then his body grew calm again and his breathing slowed and became regular, though now and then his eyelids þickered. Lately his dreams had taken him to the small village in Iceland where he'd grown up. To the jetty and the mountain behind the village. He had no idea why and didn't think his dreams were of any signiÞcance.

He didn't wake up when she opened the door and entered. Leaving it ajar behind her, she stopped by his bed and looked at him. The curtains þuttered; the shape of his body was visible under the sheet.

Gradually Kristjan became aware of her presence, though she remained where she was without moving, simply watching him. Slowly he opened his eyes, blinking as he grew accustomed to the light, then turned his head in her direction.

"Is that you?" he asked.

She was wearing a white silk robe, her arms folded. She wore her strawberry blond hair long, in þowing curls. Her eyes were bright blue, her smile girlish when she wanted it to be. She held a cigarette in a holder between her index and middle Þngers, as if she had forgotten it was there. Her Þngers were short and pink, the holder long and white with a gold ring around the end that held the cigarette.

"What did you say?" she asked quietly. "Was that Icelandic?"

It took him a while to shrug off his sleep, as though something was dragging at him from the depths of a dream.

"Oh, it's you, Miss Davies," he said at last. "Is something wrong?"

"There's nothing wrong."

If she reached out her hand she could brush against his skin. They were both aware of this.

"Who did you think it was?"

"I was dreaming..."

"About who?"

He didn't answer.

"A woman?"

He rose up on his elbow.

"I was dreaming. Is there something wrong?"

She smiled. Her own smile, not a smile from one of her movies.

"I wanted the guest list for Saturday. If you wouldn't mind..."

He stretched under the sheet, looking at her abstractedly, a white Þgure in the quiet half-darkness.

"It's down in the kitchen. I'll go get it."

She didn't move.

"I'll bring it to you..."

He smelled her breath as she Þnally turned her back on him and went to the door. He wasn't surprised that she had managed to get her hands on a bottle; the Chief wasn't home to keep an eye on her. The smell was faint and not unpleasant.

She turned at the door.

"Christian," she said. "I can't sleep. The lion's been roaring all night. Can you do something about it?"

She was ten years younger than Kristjan, twenty-Þve years younger than Hearst, who had met her when she was an eighteen-year-old chorus girl on Broadway. He was still married to his wife, who was living on the East Coast. They had Þve sons. Miss Davies was now a movie star.

"I'll get the list," he said. "Then I think you should try to get some sleep."

He stepped slowly out of bed when she had gone and stood by the window for a long time before pulling on his clothes.

The lion was silent again.

San Simeon, May 20, 1937

My darling Elisabet!

I haven't forgotten my promise to try to explain what happened. It's going to be difÞcult, that's for certain, because I often doubt if I understand it myself. By saying this I'm not trying to excuse myself, you mustn't think that. I know that you deserve better.

He wrote slowly, putting down the pen from time to time, screwing on the cap, his eyes distracted, as if he were trying to remember the nuances of a voice that had long since fallen silent. He sat like this for a long while, until at last he grew restless in his seat and strained his ears. He had opened the door to the balcony; a warm breeze lifted the paper on the table before him, then set it down again, carefully as if not to disturb him. The windows and balcony door were open, creating a cross-draft for the Chief, who was having trouble again with his breathing that night.

"My darling Elisabet," he wrote without hesitation. He had changed the salutation in the Þrst two letters as well, so they would all begin in the same way. For a long time he had been unsure whether to use that delicate word--darling, whether it would seem impertinent or arrogant. Perhaps this was why he had given up when he Þrst tried to write to her nearly four years ago. It had disturbed him that he had not even been able to Þnd a way to address her. But now he was comfortable with the word and could place it before her name effortlessly, even with enjoyment, Þnding it a source of solace, murmuring the words softly like a prayer.

He had written the Þrst letter about a month ago. This was the third.

This morning, when I was taking the Chief his breakfast out on what's known as the Tea Terrace, I suddenly started thinking about our Þrst year at Eyrarbakki. When was it--1908? 1909? It was 1909, wasn't it? Completely out of the blue I remembered our morning walks along the beach before I went to the ofÞce and you sat down at the piano. I was wondering whether we really took those walks every day, but can't quite remember, though I'm pretty sure it must have been at least every other day. I'm sure we used to walk along the beach whatever the time of year; yet I can only picture us in brilliant sunshine...

He suddenly lost the thread, feeling for a moment suspended in midair. He had been about to recall how small he had found Eyrarbakki after his return from Copenhagen, how he had wanted them to move directly to Reykjavik. These Icelandic villages, he had thought to himself, everyone with their nose in everybody else's business, like a little prison in the midst of the great empty landscape. But he stopped himself. These letters to Elisabet were hardly the right place for such reþections. No, I must keep a hold on myself, he thought, I mustn't let myself get agitated.

He stood up to calm his mind. He heard footsteps on the terrace, went out onto the balcony and watched one of the kitchen girls walking down the hill. "It was the footsteps," he told himself, "that's what distracted me." They faded but he could still hear the crunching of sand on a beach.

I seem to remember that we still took our morning walks when you were pregnant with Einar, at least during the Þrst few months, but I can't remember whether we stopped altogether after that or started again later on. Somehow I think we gave up the habit before Maria was born, as it was not long afterwards that we moved to Reykjavik. In 1912. God, it's all such a long time ago.
Olaf Olafsson|Author Q&A

About Olaf Olafsson

Olaf Olafsson - Walking Into the Night

Photo © Einar Falur Ingolfsson

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. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children.

Author Q&A

A conversation with Olaf Olafsson
Author of WALKING INTO THE NIGHT

Walking into the Night follows Kristjan Benediktsson as he flees his home in Iceland and ultimately ends up as William Randolph Hearst's butler in San Simeon, CA in the early part of the 20th century. Can you tell us a bit about his character and motivations?

Kristjan – or Christian Benediktsson as he is known here – leaves his family in Iceland, his wife and children, when everything seems to be in good order. The time is the early nineteen twenties. He’s a successful businessman, married to a woman who seems to love him, the father of four children he adores. But, nonetheless, he walks out on them in the middle of the night when they’re all sleeping, catches a ship that’s leaving for Copenhagen at dawn, and from there continues to New York. He never returns. He never lets them know what happened to him, why he left, where he is. For all they know, he might be dead. But then there are rumors and his wife goes to New York looking for him.

When the book begins, Christian is William Randolph Hearst’s butler in the castle at San Simeon. It’s 1937, a problematic time in Hearst’s life. No one at San Simeon knows Christian’s story, but it catches up with him and now he has to confront it.
His motivations? I guess the real reason for writing the book was that I wanted to understand them. And they’re complex, maybe even nonexistent, for sometimes the most dramatic events in one’s life happen without rhyme or reason, but are products of mistakes or accidents, happenstance, our many imperfections.

Walking into the Night is your third novel, and a bit of a commercial departure from your previous novels. Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write a novel of San Simeon and to follow the mental/physical history of William Randolph Hearst’s butler? What sort of research did you do?

A few years ago a friend of mine decided to tell me his grandfather’s story. This friend is a fellow Icelander, and head of the rehabilitation unit at Mt. Sinai Hospital here in New York. I suspected right then that I would use this story one day, expecting to be able to file it away for a while, for months if not years. But the next day it was still very much in my mind and the day after that as well, and wouldn’t leave until I started to pay it some attention.

I’ve tried to understand what it was that captivated me. While there were many aspects of this man’s life and story that were fascinating, I think it was the disappearing act that did it. How can you leave your children like that? What was it in his seemingly perfect life that drove him away? Did he maybe never intend to leave for good? And how did he feel ten, twenty years after having walked into the night and neither heard from nor spoken to his family again? These questions occupied me and wouldn’t let go until I started creating a character – of my imagination since I didn’t know my friend’s grandfather, Arni Benediktsson – who would go through something like this.

I did a lot of research. Arni Benediktsson’s family was very helpful to me, I can’t thank them enough. But I had to study Hearst as well and would highly recommend his biography, The Chief by David Nasaw.

What does Christian’s relationship with Hearst tell us about his character?
Hearst comes across as quite an intimidating, difficult man, yet Christian has been working for him, and managing to maintain a good relationship with him, for many years. I think there’s something about Hearst that suits his character. We’re given hints elsewhere in the book that Christian finds it difficult to be the boss, that he’s prone to ingratiating himself with people. At one point he describes himself in disgust as a fawning, subservient character. In that sense Hearst is the perfect foil for him. Pandering to Hearst’s demands occupies his thoughts and stops them from straying to painful memories, takes away the necessity for independent thought or action. The old man provides a refuge and a sense of security. And the two men seem to have some sort of understanding, some empathy between them.

The women in Christian's life are vastly different from one another--can you tell us about Elisabet, Klara, and even Marion Davies? And how do their personality traits impact Christian's decisions?
I don’t want to give away too much of the story but Christian’s wife Elisabet is a composed, enigmatic figure, no less enigmatic to her husband than to the readers of the story. Her family feels she has married beneath her, and Christian seems never to be able to relate to her as a social equal, he always feels she is too good for him. There is something unreachable, untouchable in her nature. Even when they make love he feels that she’s detached. Christian’s decision to walk out on her is consistent with this feeling that she never really needs him. He’s a man who needs to be needed.

Klara is a very different proposition – sensual, fragile. Christian seems able to relate to her as an equal, despite her pretensions to grandeur. He knows that she loves and needs him, and senses that she can understand him in some way that Elisabet never could. He’s so afraid of Elisabet’s pity, whereas Klara seems to offer non-judgmental comprehension.

Marion is perhaps more reminiscent of Klara than Elisabet. Although she’s Christian’s social superior due to her position as Hearst’s mistress, she is needy and damaged, and there seems to be a certain frisson between them. Perhaps his final decision is partly prompted by the attraction she seems to feel for him, which would put him in an untenable position with Hearst.

Rather than simply recreating the life of Christian chronologically, you chose a third person narrative interspersed with flashbacks told through personal letters never sent. Why did you choose this structure for Walking into the Night? What is the significance of telling the story in this manner?
I thought long and hard about the structure of the book. I always try to have it firmly in my mind before I start writing in earnest. Using the first and third person allowed me to keep a certain distance from Christian and his surroundings when I needed to, enabled me to shift the focus from one person to another and one period to another, but at the same time provide a glimpse into his thinking which was crucial to understanding the man.

Place figures centrally in the novel whether it is a fishing village in Iceland, Reykjavik, New York City, or the Southern Californian estate of San Simeon. What is the importance of each place and its role in the context of the entire novel?
The places change but the question is whether the protagonist does. The story itself dictated the scenery; there is a great contrast between Eyrarbakki, a small fishing village about 30 miles from Reykjavik, and Hearst’s castle at San Simeon, which I was very pleased to be able to use in a book. I had visited there many years ago and taken many mental pictures there, stored them away in case I had the opportunity to find a place for them later. I guess in that sense I’m like a junk dealer, picking up bits and pieces in the hope that I can find use for them later.

I suppose you could say that the Icelandic settings of Eyrarbakki/Reykjavik represent a trap to Christian; they’re too physically small and socially confining for his nature, he can’t break free of his background and become his own man there. Whereas New York, like Copenhagen, provides freedom for him to spread his wings and shed responsibility, but in the end it offers dislocation, a kind of limbo. San Simeon, on the other hand, is like an island out of time and out of mind, a refuge, somewhere to hide from the world and the fallout from what he’s done. Ultimately, however, there’s no escape from life, and the outside world encroaches even on this sanctuary.


Iceland is a recurring character in your fiction--what ties do you still have to your homeland?
I’ve never tried to shed my roots. I was born in Iceland, spent my youth there, have a house there and a family as well. Living between two worlds is something I’m used to by now, having lived here for half my life, first in Boston, then California, but for the last 15 years in New York.


Birds are a recurring motif throughout WALKING INTO THE NIGHT. What do they symbolize and what is their significance to the protagonist and to the novel?

People have for a long time associated birds with freedom, but in Walking Into the Night I think they play many roles, in some instances symbolic but they’re also an evocation, birds for birds’ sake.

Birds reveal aspects of Christian’s character. He feels some affinity with birds of prey like the eagle and hawk. It’s perhaps significant that when he first meets his wife he’s engaged in drawing an eagle, yet during his marriage he seems to concentrate on gentler birds. And he feels himself that his emotional state is revealed through the success or otherwise of his drawings of birds. He takes up the hobby again towards the end of his time at San Simeon. His progress in rediscovering his old skill in some sense mirrors his progress in unburdening his feelings in his letters. And the last bird he draws before breaking free is again a bird of prey, the hawk.

What does Christian represent? Is he an everyman? Is he a good Christian, as his name implies? Is he a hero?
The author has to believe that his protagonist is a decent man, regardless of whatever mistakes he may have made in his life. He is an everyman in the sense that strange things happen to almost everyone and no one lives his life in perfect agreement with himself and others. I would hardly call him a hero, though I certainly don’t think he’s the opposite. Aren’t most people both – heroes and cowards, depending on the circumstances?

What is next for Olaf Olafsson?
When I get Christian out of my mind, I’ll start another book. Till then, I’ll walk with him, if not into the night, then at least into some of the bookstores.

Praise

Praise

“Stunning. . . . Pitch-perfect. . . . Beautifully rendered. . . . The novel’s effect is the same [as that of] Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.” –Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Memorable. . . . Olafsson is a master puppeteer, violently pulling the strings of memory, desire and fate, even as the words flow calmly and sensuously from his pen.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Quietly moving. . . . An evocative tale of grief and hope.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Sublime. . . . Olafsson is a gifted dramatist.” –The Denver Post

“Exquisite. . . . Olafsson delivers the story like our minds deliver memory–in stretches of calm, in flashes of intensity, with jagged edges of remorse, in self-protective remove. . . . We turn the pages because we are entranced by the pristine quality of the prose.” –Chicago Tribune

“Profound and moving. . . . Unforgettable. . . . The beauty of this novel is the questions it poses as it traverses the landscape of the human heart, making sense of the senselessness and rendering sympathetic a very human character caught in a web not entirely of his own making.” –The Advocate

“Poignant. . . . Engaging. . . . Olafsson is a sensitive, old-fashioned novelist.” –The Washington Post Book World

“Marvelous. . . . Haunting. . . . Olafsson has organized the book brilliantly. . . . The writing is gorgeous, filled with heavily-illuminated images and beautiful visual description.” –Deseret News (Salt Lake City)
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Olafsson, a tremendous talent, has written an unforgettable novel.” —The Boston Globe

The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Olaf Olafsson’s Walking into the Night, a heartbreakingly beautiful novel of love and loss.

About the Guide

Christian Benediktsson has led a quiet life as William Randolph Hearst’s butler for twenty years. No one knows his past, that he was once a husband, father, businessman, lover. His days are filled with the rituals of caring for a grand house and a demanding boss, but it is in his most private thoughts and memories that we learn of the wife and children he abandoned in Iceland, his reckless affair with a glamorous New York actress and his financial downfall, all of which led to his retreat years ago. In this rich and deeply moving novel, Olafsson has created a stunning portrait of a man wrestling with guilt and secret passions, but who ultimately cannot allow the past to reenter his life.

About the Author

Olaf Olafsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1962. He studied physics as a Wien Scholar at Brandeis University. He is the author of two previous novels, The Journey Home and Absolution. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in New York with his wife and two sons.

Discussion Guides

1. Rather than simply following Christian’s life chronologically, Walking into the Night is written in the third person narrative and interspersed with flashbacks told through personal letters. How does this point of view affect the reader’s perception of the story? Why doesn’t Christian ever send the letters?

2. What is the function of Elisabet ’s occasional narration? Does her perspective change your view on anything—Christian, Elisabet herself, or the situation? How does hearing her side of the story affect the reader?

3. Geography plays a crucial part of Walking into the Night, whether it is a small fishing village in Iceland, the capital Reykjavik, New York City, or the Southern California estate of San Simeon. Describe each place and its importance and role in the context of the entire novel. What are the symbolic differences? How do the various places affect Christian? Does he transform as he travels from place to place? Where is he most comfortable and content?

4. The story takes place in Europe and America in the 1920s and 30s, before and after the Great Depression and between the wars. How does the time period affect the story and the characters? Could Christian’s life experiences happen in the late 1990s and at present, or are they particular to a certain age?

5. Discuss the master/servant relationship between Hearst and Christian. Compare and contrast the two men. Is one a foil to the other? How do the two men change or grow over the course of the novel? Does Christian’s sense of self change because of his subservient relationship with Hearst?

6. What does Christian represent? What is the significance of his name? Is he a sympathetic character? An everyman? A hero?

7. Birds are a recurring motif throughout Walking into the Night. What are the various types of birds that appear in the novel? What do they symbolize, and what is their significance to the protagonist and to the novel? Why is the final sentence of the novel about a bird?

8. Of one early photograph of himself, Christian says, “Somewhere behind the dignified expression in the photograph . . . lurked a flaw that could ruin everything” [p. 123]. How do photographs expose Christian? What is the importance of photographs in the novel?

9. The theme of betrayal is prominent in Walking into the Night. What types of betrayal occur? What are the causes and consequences of them? Are the betrayals justified? Is anyone innocent? Does guilt play a role or haunt any of the characters?

10. What kinds of captivity and freedom does the author explore in Walking into the Night? Is Christian free? If not, what stifles or prevents him from being free? Other people, circumstances, his own personality traits? Is Hearst, one of the richest men in America, free?

11. How has Christian’s rural Icelandic upbringing, community, and his family’s poverty affected his personality and desires? What does he want from life, and what compromises has he made?

12. What sorts of relationships does Christian have with the three women in his life–Elisabet, Klara, and Marion Davies? What binds Christian to each woman? How and why does each woman need and depend on Christian? How do the individual women impact Christian and his decisions?

13. What are Christian’s ideas of familial and romantic love? Do his definitions of family and love evolve? What determines and/or undermines his attachments to the women in his life? If you’ve read Olafsson’s earlier fiction, how do Christian’s romantic and familial relationships compare or contrast with those in The Journey Home or Absolution?

14. Early in the novel, Christian writes, “I never gave myself time to let my thoughts wander. I knew that if I did, the memories would flood over me” [p. 22]. And later, “The nights are the hardest, when silence surrounds me and there’s nothing to deflect the memories” [p. 24]. Why doesn’t he want to confront his memories? Are his unsent letters to Elisabet a way of remembering, accepting, apologizing for, or controlling the past?

15. Do you trust the memories that are relayed through Christian’s letters? Does he? He describes his memoirs/letters as an explanation to Elisabet–“I haven’t forgotten my promise to try to explain what happened” [p. 11]. Does the reader accept this even though Christian never sends the letters to her? Why or why not?

16. Discuss the significance of the title and the ending. Why does the novel conclude this way? What do you think is in the future for Christian?

Suggested Readings

Kathleen Cambor, In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden; F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby; Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day; Ha Jin, Waiting; David Nasaw, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst; Olaf Olafsson, Absolution and The Journey Home.

  • Walking Into the Night by Olaf Olafsson
  • October 12, 2004
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Anchor
  • $13.95
  • 9781400034802

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