Category Archives: Catapult

What Happens At Night by Peter Cameron

What Happens At Night by Peter Cameron

Title: What Happens At Night
Author: Peter Cameron
Publisher: Catapult
ISBN: 978-1948226967
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This book is strange, and yet not so. It did seem weird when I began reading it, but then all the pieces took shape and joined together perfectly, like a jigsaw puzzle, and then I wasn’t baffled anymore. At the same time, I am in awe of Cameron’s writing – astute, precise, and fabulist – so much rolled into one, and yet the individual threads of the story aren’t lost.

An unnamed American couple has travelled days from New York City, to an unnamed European country, with the sole purpose of adopting a child. They are staying in a palatial and yet extremely spooky old hotel, Borgarfjaroasysla Grand Imperial Hotel.  The woman is battling stage-four cancer, and this is the reason no one outside of this country will let them adopt a child. A child to them is the only hope to get through life with the hurdle thrown at them.

In all of this they encounter a motley bunch of people – odd, bizarre, mysterious, and sometimes macabre as well, right from a businessman who wants to seduce the man, an ageing former actress who seems to have her own agenda, a local healer, and a bartender who concocts the best local schnapps. This is not even half of the story by the way. The other part of the story where the action really takes place is the marriage of the couple and what happens to it in a strange country surrounded by strange people.

I think what stayed with me while I was reading the book, and will continue to is the atmospheric elements that Cameron infuses so generously – it feels as though the elements are at play independent of the plot (to some extent) but they are the driving force of the narrative. From the gloom of a night to the brightness of a lamp in the hotel room, to the menacing outdoors – the orphanage, the healer’s place, and the railway station – each element brings out a sense of dread and suspense – juxtaposing the marriage of the couple.

I firmly believe that the marriage is another character that is always at the forefront. The frailties of it, the thin line between love and hate, the secrets that hold a marriage together, and what we learn about ourselves in the process shines in Cameron’s prose. Yes, the world of What Happens at Night is weird and enigmatic, and strange, yet it is soothing. I wanted to be in it. A fly on the wall, maybe but I wanted to be a part of it. A world of strangers – each assigned their own role, and at the heart of it – the unnamed couple and their perceptions of marital bliss or otherwise.

All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung

All You Can Ever Know Title: All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir
Author: Nicole Chung
Publisher: Catapult
ISBN: 978-1936787975
Genre: Memoir, Women
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

It is never easy to bare your soul and speak the truth. When a writer does that, or for that matter anyone who does that, you instantly connect. Not because you have faced the same, but because there is empathy that extends itself on a universal sphere – that of longing, loss, and love. Nicole Chung’s book is all of that and more.

Nicole was adopted by a white couple in Oregon when she was two months old. As a child, Chung’s adoptive parents always made it a point to let her know that she was adopted.  She rarely met any Asian people growing-up and often felt a sense of alienation – a sense of not belonging and made to feel that by children and adults. As she grew into an adult, this bothered her even more. More so, when she thinks of starting a family with her husband Dan, and sets out to find her birth parents. 

All You Can Ever Know is a memoir that cuts through the pretence. It is stark and doesn’t mince words. Of course the sense of family and its roots is very strong, but at no point does Chung’s writing make it seem like she needs validation. It is just an honest account told as though someone is writing a diary or confiding in an old friend. What she went through is extremely heartfelt and moves you to tears (at least did to me). There is also a lot of humour amidst family secrets, relationships, and the question of identity that Chung brings to the book. The complications of race are sensitively told, and ultimately it is all about love and what defines it in the long run. All You Can Ever Know is a must-read for all families – no matter what kind or shape.