What Happens at Night

Peter Cameron (Author)


A couple find themselves at a fading, grand European hotel full of eccentric and sometimes unsettling patrons in this "faultlessly elegant and quietly menacing" allegorical story that examines the significance of shifting desires and the uncertainty of reality (Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness).

An American couple travel to a strange, snowy European city to adopt a baby, who they hope will resurrect their failing marriage. This 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 and the restaurant serves thirteen-course dinners from centuries past. 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).

Product Details

$26.00  $23.92
Publish Date
August 04, 2020
6.1 X 9.1 X 1.1 inches | 1.25 pounds

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About the Author

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.


Praise for What Happens At Night

"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

"This book is a masterpiece--reading it reminds me of the first time I read Kafka. A whole new vision is suddenly revealed: unique, unexpected, unforgettable. Get ready for a new adjective: Cameronesque." --Edmund White, author of A Boy's Own Story

"In his characteristically precise and lucid prose, Peter Cameron invents a virtuosic tale that is by turns terrifying, comic, and heartbreaking. We do not always know whether we are in the realm of the real or the hallucinatory in this thrillingly mysterious and gorgeously written novel. What is never in doubt is that we are in the hands of a ravishing stylist and a supremely gifted storyteller." --Sigrid Nunez, author of The Friend

"In the beautiful What Happens at Night, Peter Cameron sends a married couple to a mysterious northern country where only the schnapps is reliable. The world he creates is both recognizable and enchantingly strange. I never knew what was going to happen next, and I couldn't stop turning the pages. A profound pleasure for readers." --Margot Livesey, author of Mercury and The Flight of Gemma Hardy

"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

Praise for Coral Glynn

"A sad, beautiful, absorbing story of love missed, love lost, love found . . . Cameron has taken great pains to artfully reveal the wounding shards of personal history that motivate--or enervate--every character. They lie inside each person, so the reader has the sense of their hidden presence even before the lacerating shock when they're let loose. Quite apart from the narrative drive, there is plenty of propulsion in the powerful elegance of the writing of this story of a young nurse named Coral Glynn." ―Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review

"Peter Cameron spent part of his childhood in England, so his accent, so to speak, is authentic; but it's also derived from his veneration for British miniaturists like the novelists Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym. . . Pull up a chair by the fire and settle in, but don't get too lulled by the domestic setting, because Cameron's writing is full of sharp angles and unanticipated swerves into the droll and the downright weird . . . Coral Glynn is young, alone in the world, and described by other characters as 'rather pretty . . . in a plain way.' If that phrase puts you in mind of Jane Eyre, it should; Cameron also doffs his cap to Daphne DuMaurier's classic about a solitary orphan, Rebecca. I mean it as the highest compliment when I say that Coral Glynn is not 'about' anything so much as it is about the pleasures of storytelling. Even throwaway scenes are so closely observed, they offer the delight of the unexpected word or detail. [Cameron] artfully compresses so many beloved English stories and tropes into one smashing novel." ―Maureen Corrigan, NPR

"Some novels hit you twice: while you're caught in their spell, and then again, after you've finished and are left wondering, What was that all about? At first blush, Peter Cameron's Coral Glynn is a curio--an atmospheric period piece. In its simplicity, it seems a throwback to mid-20th-century domestic novels, but with echoes of Jane Eyre--a sort of Gothic lite. However, its concerns with repressed homosexuality, lies of omission and whether it's preferable to settle for 'a quiet, decent life' or hold out for greater fulfillment are timeless . . . Cameron revisits the themes of alienation and duplicity explored in his contemporary novels set in America, which include Andorra, The Weekend and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. His writing is as quiet and unassuming as his heroine, with occasional flashes of surprising beauty. Holly leaves shiver 'metallically . . . the sound of the world asking once again to be assuaged.' The various strands of Coral Glynn come together as neatly as a schoolgirl's early morning braid. But some loose ends inevitably work their way free--and that's where, in the end, Cameron obliquely directs our focus . . . What do our reactions to this story--and specifically, our propensity to seek a happily-ever-after, all's-well-that-ends-well ending--indicate about us? Cameron writes, 'How was it ever possible to know who, or what, people really were? They were all like coins, with two sides, or die, with six.' In retrospect, Cameron's mesmerizing, melancholy novel is not as pat as it seems. And that's where it really gets interesting." ―Heller McAlpin, NPR

"Peter Cameron [is] an elegantly acute and mysteriously beguiling writer . . . The plots, the ventures, the encounters of his characters, instead of taking them from point A to point B, abduct them into unintended and more expansive itineraries." ―Richard Eder, The Boston Globe

"A big, dark house in the English countryside, with its brooding, damaged master; the pretty but gawky young woman who comes to work there--and to stumble over secrets in gloomy hallways: These are the elements of an old-fashioned gothic tale, and also of Peter Cameron's lovely, enigmatic new novel, Coral Glynn . . . There's a way stories like this are supposed to go, and Coral Glynn both does and doesn't play by the old rules . . . Coral Glynn is a tribute to a certain breed of novel most often written by British women in the mid-20th century: astringently unsentimental, disciplined, replete with half-acknowledged emotions moving like the shadows of alarmingly large fish deep beneath the surface of the sea. Because their own time preferred to valorize a more chest-thumping sort of writer, their brilliance has been almost forgotten. Some, like Muriel Spark, never entirely slipped from view. Others, like Elizabeth Taylor, are just now being revived. There's a dash of Daphne du Maurier here, too, and a touch of the sublime Barbara Pym . . . Like Cameron's novels, these books have won a following that makes up in tenacity for what it lacks in size. The audience for both keeps on growing, one devoted reader at a time." ―Laura Miller, Salon

"In his moody and haunting Coral Glynn, Peter Cameron serves up all the elements of gothic fiction . . . The novelist adds enough twists and tensions to make the book feel refreshingly new . . . With its echoes of Iris Murdoch's moral fables and Daphne du Maurier's lush romances, Coral Glynn is like an engrossing black-and-white movie for a rainy afternoon--a tale of clouded hearts, hidden motives and dangerous affections." ―Mark Doty, More Magazine

"Like its packaging, Peter Cameron's Coral Glynn is spare and unassuming. Mr. Cameron announces his talent in the way that matters: by telling a riveting tale with an often heartbreakingly pure prose style . . . Though American, Mr. Cameron is presenting an updated version of the classic English novel of manners, with its themes of balked love and painfully polite misunderstandings. Every timorous gesture points to some profound psychological fear . . . Scenes unfold with the exquisite design of a one-act play, with props skillfully deployed to comic and poignant effect . . . [Cameron's] writing . . . is bracingly unvarnished and unsentimental, stripped of pity or condescension. It is as though he has set an X-ray machine before the traditional English drawing room, leaving its demure occupants exposed in their loneliness and well-meant follies--and revealing them as movingly human." ―Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"[Cameron's] chief literary virtues are wit, charm, and lightness of touch, qualities infrequently found in contemporary American fiction . . . Cameron is above all a novelist of manners, building his effects from the drama and comedy of human relationships, working always on a small scale . . . [He] specializes in emotional subtlety and unspoken desires--all the while hinting at an almost overwhelming disorder swirling beneath the placid surface . . . We may be so slow to recognize Cameron as a twenty-first-century American master because he has the sensibility of a twentieth-century British one." ―Christopher Beha, Bookforum

"Beauty and loss suffuse Peter Cameron's atmospheric period novel, set in the English countryside in the 1950s. When she is hired to care for a dying woman at the woman's isolated home, a young nurse discovers that the secluded mansion is also inhabited by the dying woman's wounded-veteran son. Exploring themes of love and longing, Cameron's skillfully wrought tale lures readers into a somber, dreamlike world." ―Barnes & Noble (Best of the Month pick)

"Set in the English countryside in the aftermath of WWII, this quietly compelling sixth novel from Cameron . . . focuses on the story of the eponymous heroine, Coral, a nurse, sent to Hart House in 1950 to tend the dying Mrs. Hart . . . The book is suffused with a lonely sadness and an aura of the surreal, and the many dramatic events in Coral's life are entirely plausible thanks to Cameron's skill as a storyteller." ―Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

"Cameron writes great novels the way they are intended to be, as art of pure imagination. Never repeating himself, ever expanding into new territory, Cameron for the first time here sets his story in England and in the past . . . Strange relationships, double personalities, and the word 'odd' echo throughout this disquieting novel that captures what it must have been like to live in a nation muddling through profound shock in the war's long aftermath. Really, the book is about depression, yet it perpetually glows with wry or laugh aloud moments . . . With its vaguely dreamlike aura and its accusation of murder, the book's mood is closest to that of Cameron's third novel, Andorra. But Coral Glynn is even better. It takes bigger leaps, goes deeper, and to my mind is more nervewrecking because the well-meaning characters make such terrible choices. The only choice for you to make is when to read it because as one of the year's best books it cannot be missed." ―Stephen Bottum, Band of Thebes

"With its atmospheric Fifties setting and stylish writing, this is one of Cameron's . . . finest novels." ―Library Journal

"Cameron's shimmering and expectant prose infuses this deceptively simple novel with an incandescent depth . . . The decidedly somber and gothic tone of the narrative rings the perfect warning note as the reader begins to suspect that a standard fairy-tale ending is highly unlikely for a cast of lost souls forlornly muted by unrequited longings." ―Booklist

"Coral Glynn is a beguiling and moody whodunit that examines the harrowing consequences of lives lived disingenuously . . . the book has a subtle, atmospheric tableau that's rich in wit and unrequited affections." ―Dan Lopez, Time Out New York

"Coral Glynn is . . . a beautifully controlled, suspenseful novel that smartly renders melodramatic events into credible, even empathetic moments. Cameron is such a clear, wry writer who knows precisely what he's after, and his style is so restrained, that he achieves the feat of making outrageous occurrences feel understandable. Each of our lives, whether we want to admit it or not, has a touch of melodrama." ―Clairborne Smith, The Daily Beast

"The pleasure of this novel are its lovely, restrained writing and its quite power to keep the reader turning pages." ―Tom Beer, Newsday

"Coral Glynn is quite compelling . . . Cameron works with a deft hand, never succumbing to histrionics . . . it's evident that Cameron is having fun with the material. His light and breezy style at times suggests a Barbara Pym-like comedy of manners . . . The dialogue, as well, is brisk and crisp, evoking upper-crust poshies at their wittiest." ―Viet Dinh, Lambda Literary

Praise for Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You

"Deliciously vital right from the start . . . Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is a piece of vocal virtuosity and possibly Cameron's best book: it retains the lucid and unlabored prose of his previous ones but wastes less time; it may be his most successful novel on its own terms--terms that are not as modest as they may initially seem . . . What Peter Cameron has done is written a sophisticated and adult book. Neither young adult literature, nor even really a coming-of-age story, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is most surprisingly of all the subtlest September 11 novel yet written. So accomplished is its subtlety that one is not even aware of this novel's true subject until three quarters of the way through, and then its mention...rises up out of the story's barely submerged anxiety and casts on the book a sudden, brilliant light. It is a bravura performance, and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is a stunning little book."--New York Review of Books

"Cameron's power is his ability to distill a particular world and social experience with great specificity while still allowing the reader to access the deep well of our shared humanity." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"The irony and wit Cameron's characters exchange is truly refreshing and had my teens, at least, cackling with appreciation."--Toronto Star