Walking into the Night
How did Icelandic businessman Kristjan Benediktsson end up as Christian, butler to William Randolph Hearst? Kristjan was a successful businessman with a wife and family in Iceland. Business trips to New York grew more and more frequent until his life in Iceland fell victim to the life he truly desired. Still, that life was a far cry from life as Hearst’s butler.
Olafsson alternates between glimpses of Kristjan’s past and his present. As Kristjan, he hides his father-in-law’s business failures while trying to prove himself to his wife’s family and taking increasingly longer business trips to New York. As Christian, he insures that the household at San Simeon runs smoothly while helping Marion Davies conceal her drinking from Hearst and keeping the rest of the staff from being fired at Hearst’s whim.
Kristjan remains essentially a cipher. Although I was intrigued by him and how he ended up with Hearst, he seemed detached from his life long before he changed it so dramatically. Hearst and Davies, however, are made more intriguing by being seen through Kristjan’s eyes. We see Davies, the vulnerable and warm-hearted, and Hearst, the Chief, egotistical and temperamental and yet vulnerable himself as well. Olafsson successfully gives a behind-the-scenes feel to the San Simeon chapters, but those who peopled the New York and Iceland chapters, Kristjan’s mistress and his wife, are less clearly drawn and compelling. Still, Olafsson writes with a graceful prose that left me wanting more.