“What Happens at Night” by Peter Cameron— The Beauty of Language and Ideas


Cameron, Peter. “What Happens at Night”,   Catapult, 2020.

The Beauty of Language and Ideas

Amos Lassen

Get ready for a gorgeous read with Peter Cameron’s suspenseful story of a couple’s struggle to adopt a baby while staying in a once grand European hotel.An American couple travels to a strange European city to adopt a baby, who they hope will resurrect their  marriage that is on the skids. The journey is arduous and the wife, who is struggling with cancer becomes desperately weak, and her husband worries that this will prevent the orphanage from giving them their child.

They stay at the somewhat deserted Borgarfjaroasysla Grand Imperial Hotel where the bar is always open and the restaurant serves thirteen-course dinners based on the past. The people they meet both attempt to help and hamper them claim their baby is both helped and hampered by the people they encounter. These include an ancient and flamboyant chanteuse, a debauched businessman, a mysterious faith healer, and a stoic bartender who serves addictive, lichen-flavored schnapps. This is a world frozen in time and the more time the couple spends there, the less they seem to understand about the state of their marriage, who they are and life.

Written in elegant prose with shades of terror, this is one of the most beautiful books I have read in a very long time even from Peter Cameron, a writer I have loved for a long time. There is humor and heartbreak in the story and Cameron successfully manipulates our emotions as we read. We really never know what is real and what is not but we do know that we reading real literature.

We recognize the world of the setting even though there is something eerily strange about it. Because I was anxious to know what was coming, I turned pages as quickly as I could after devouring the luscious prose that I read here. This is a story of morality and love in which Cameron carefully balances humor and catastrophe and “cynicism and sincerity”.

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