‘What Happens at Night’ by Peter Cameron – At the Far Northern End of the World


‘What Happens at Night’ by Peter Cameron (2020) – 299 pages


Early while I was reading ‘What Happens at Night’, I came across the following line which reminded me that Peter Cameron is remarkably adept at writing interesting sentences:

A few dark cars and trucks stoically amassed garments of snow in the small parking lot.”

If a fiction writer writes crisp, clear, engaging sentences, more than half the battle is already won.

‘What Happens at Night’ takes place in far northern Scandinavia, I suppose Finland. Much of the novel takes place at the Borgarfjaroasysla Grand Imperial Hotel. With its remote northern hotel setting and its literary qualities, the novel reminded me of ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles.

The two main characters, a married couple, are unnamed. They are throughout referred to as “the man” or “the woman”. They have come from New York to this remote location in order to adopt a baby. The wife is quite sick with uterine cancer so she stays most of the time in the hotel room, but the husband ventures out to the hotel bar where he meets some alluring characters, particularly an aging female lounge singer named Livia-Pinheiro Rima. Much of the novel takes place in that hotel bar.

The novel proceeds in serendipitous fashion with the man off having these offhand wayward adventures in the bar while his wife is mainly sleeping. They do go together to meet the baby that they are going to adopt, and on the way they meet a faith healer called Brother Emmanuel.

The sentences are always well-made, but I really don’t know what to make of the plot. The plot is not exactly playful and not exactly serious, but it does not seem to be tied to any reality to which I could relate. The story has a surreal quality that might occur at the far end of the world where this actually takes place.

But the sentences kept me reading.

It was that I could see too clearly, too devastatingly, the things, things, about people that were hurt and therefore lovable, the beautiful sacred space in them that needed touching. And once you’ve seen that in someone, it’s difficult not to love him. Or her. At least it was for me.”


Grade:    B+


4 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting. The good writing obviously lifts this, but the fact you seem to be struggling to work out the point of the book would make me hesitate a little!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. It sounds bizarre…

    Liked by 1 person


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