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What Happens at Night: Book summary and reviews of What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron

What Happens at Night

by Peter Cameron

What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron X
What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron
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  • Published in USA  Aug 2020
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

This atmospheric, suspenseful story of a couple staying in a fading, grand European hotel as they struggle to adopt a baby "finds its home among the mid-twentieth-century classics of psychological realism, as brutal, in its way, as The Sheltering Sky, and just as memorable, just as peopled with the deep human mysteries" (Rick Moody).

In this atmospheric, suspenseful novel, an American couple travels to a strange, snowy European city to adopt a baby, who they hope will resurrect their failing marriage. Their difficult journey leaves the wife, who is struggling with cancer, desperately weak, and her husband worries that her apparent illness will prevent the orphanage from releasing their child.

The couple check into the cavernous and eerily deserted Borgarfjaroasysla Grand Imperial Hotel where the bar is always open, the restaurant serves thirteen-course dinners from centuries past, and the doors of the guest rooms have been salvaged from demolished opera houses. Their attempt to claim their baby is both helped and hampered by the people they encounter: an ancient, flamboyant chanteuse, a debauched businessman, an enigmatic faith healer, and a stoic bartender who dispenses an addictive, lichen-flavored schnapps. Nothing is as it seems in this mysterious, frozen world, and the longer the couple endure the punishing cold the less they seem to know about their marriage, themselves, and life itself.

What Happens at Night is a "masterpiece" (Edmund White) poised on the cusp of reality, told by "an elegantly acute and mysteriously beguiling writer" (Richard Eder, the Boston Globe).

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A dreamy fable confronting love, death, and our inevitable inadequacy yet persistence in the face of both." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] dreamlike, resonant fable...While the idiosyncratic setting can sometimes serve as a foil for the couple, their response makes Cameron's admirable tale emotionally affecting." - Publishers Weekly

"[An] atmospheric and philosophical tale...The claustrophobic setting somehow brilliantly and counterintuitively creates the space for Cameron to expand the interiority of his characters, to spelunk down into their psychological labyrinths, and follow the paths wherever they might lead, leaving the reader transfixed and wonderfully disoriented. This willingness to construct a consciousness out of language shares a sensibility with such mid-century European masters as Stefan Zweig and Robert Walser and rewards close reading." - Booklist

"Peter Cameron's What Happens at Night is a surreal, funny, heartbreaking story about love and mortality. Cameron's sense of balance between the comic and the catastrophic, between cynicism and sincerity, is astonishing. This book reminds me of nothing else I've ever read, which is high praise indeed." - Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours and The Snow Queen

"Peter Cameron has long been among my favorite contemporary writers. He's a compassionate and unsparing surveyor of all that comprises human character. What Happens at Night finds its home among the mid-twentieth-century classics of psychological realism, as brutal, in its way, as The Sheltering Sky, and just as memorable, just as peopled with the deep human mysteries. This new novel is a powerful and admirable addition to Cameron's estimable body of work." - Rick Moody, author of the The Ice Storm and The Long Accomplishment

"I don't think I've ever read a book by an American or by a living person that's as exquisitely rendered as What Happens at Night. Every word is exactly as it should be; there is not a single extra word out of place. The novel feels as though it traveled through time to arrive here. Cameron's prose creates an effect that is literally like a fugue (or cinematic fog): intense, beautiful, inescapable, and so much about grief that has been and grief that is to come, heartbreaking and tender. The story is so intense, such a fine reduction of the enormity of the dreams of marriage, the responsibilities of marriage, of life, of love, and the ways in which―unintentionally or not―we inevitably fail each other and ourselves." - A. M. Homes, author of Days of Awe and May We Be Forgiven

"The prose in What Happens at Night is faultlessly elegant and quietly menacing, like a tuxedo lined with knives. I can't think of another book at once so beautiful and so unnerving, so poised between miracle and disaster. Peter Cameron is one of America's greatest writers, the living stylist I most revere." - Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You and Cleanness

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Author Information

Peter Cameron

Peter Cameron is the author of eight novels and three collections of stories. His short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Rolling Stone, and many other literary journals. He lives in New York City and Sandgate, Vermont.

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