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100 Book in a Year: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

By Figgy | Books | April 7, 2009 |

By Figgy | Books | April 7, 2009 |

When I started reading this, I had no idea it was based on true events and real people. I knew there was a movie based on it, so about halfway through I did some quick research and found out that, aside from some minor changes to names and situations, every story and every character in this book is real. That made a great thing even better.

Midnight is, in a nutshell, about the city of Savannah, Georgia. John Berendt, the narrator, is enchanted with Savannah from the second he first visits the city. To him, and to the reader, it’s like going into a completely separate and alienated world, full of strict rules and bizarre characters that live in a place that seems untouched by time and the outside world. It’s fascinating, really, and to find out that all of the stories are true adds an extra touch of charm and mystery to the book.

The first half of the book is mostly full of little stories about the characters Berendt meets during his many trips to Savannah. Each character he encounters not only has their own personal story, but is full of tales and scandals about people dead or alive. You get the sense that there’s far more there than could fit in a book. We find Berendt trying to navigate the maze of personal relationships and the strict hierarchy of Savannah high society, where everyone knows and remembers everything about everybody. This was easily my favorite part of the book. Berendt is never judgmental, and though there are stories of racism, murder, theft and general snobbishness, it’s all full of humor and the sense that the characters just don’t care what anyone outside Savannah thinks. It’s seriously great fun to read.

The second half is a little less exciting. One of the characters we’re introduced to early on in the book commits a shocking murder that rocks all of Savannah high society. It’s a complicated case that ends up being retried four times in a period of 8 years or so, and Berendt focuses mostly on the trial and this time period in the second half of the book. It’s interesting for the most part, but the problem is that nothing much changes from trial to trial, and reading about it becomes monotonous and repetitive sometimes. I found myself getting impatient for Berendt to stop talking about the trial and get back to the crazy characters and stories. He does, but keeps returning to the trial, which bogs down the pace of the book somewhat. This isn’t to say it makes the book bad, just not as perfectly consistent with itself as it could have been.

That being said, this is overall a great read. I love stories that deal with multiple characters, and Berendt does a fantastic job of juggling their stories and personalities to give us a sense of the world they live in. It’s amusing and dark, full of stories of blood and murder, scandal, death, parties and living the high life. I loved it, and just like Berendt himself, I was left fascinated with Savannah.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read. Details about here and the growing number of participants and their blogs, from which these reviews are pulled, are here. And check here for more of Figgy’s reviews.

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