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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

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megustaleer 23rd March 2006 03:42 PM

Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil

 

Midnight In The Garden Of Good and Evil was published as a factual book in a blaze of publicity and hype. It was, however a heavily fictionalised story, based on fact. Having said that, although there is a crime and a trial as a focal point, the real hero (heroine?) of this story is the town of Savannah, so for the moment, in accordance with the view expressed in the review below, I am considering it to be a travel book. I could always move it later, if someone convinces me that it has a proper home elsewhere.

Fiction/crime/ true crime/ biography. It has elements of all of these!

From Publishers Weekly

After discovering in the early 1980s that a super-saver fare to Savannah, Ga., cost the same as an entree in a nouvelle Manhattan restaurant, Esquire columnist Berendt spent the next eight years flitting between Savannah and New York City. The result is this collection of smart, sympathetic observations about his colorful Southern neighbors, including a jazz-playing real estate shark; a sexually adventurous art student; the Lady Chablis (' "What was your name before that?" I asked. "Frank," she said.' "); the gossipy Married Woman's Card Club; and an assortment of aging Southern belles. The book is also about the wealthy international antiques dealer Jim Williams, who played an active role in the historic city's restoration--and would also be tried four times for the 1981 shooting death of 21-year-old Danny Handsford, his high-energy, self-destructive house helper. The Williams trials--he died in 1990 of a heart attack at age 59--are lively matches between dueling attorneys fought with shifting evidence, and they serve as both theme and anchor to Berendt's illuminating and captivating travelogue.

 

Flingo sometime! 10:26 PM

 

This was my RL Book Club read last week. As only 3 of us turned up to the meeting, I'm not sure what that said about the book!

 

I really enjoyed the first part of the book, the people each having a chapter to introduce them and tell their stories, all becoming more interlinked as the book developed. The people were drawn beautifully, and I felt as if I were viewing them through the window rather than in a book!

 

Part 2, though, covering the trial seemed lengthy and too full of legal-ease, to be enjoyable as a "read for pleasure".

 

I also found it hard to believe that this was written over 8 years - Berendt shows no sign of time in his narrative. Admittedly, Part 2 encompassed about 5 years of this time but even that was not detailed very well.

 

My other gripe was with Minerva - the witch-doctor who seemed a little too stereo-typed to fit the rest of the book and its sense of reality.

 

ETA - Meg, I was going to post this in Biography before I remembered to search for it. I don't think I would have thought to look in travel.

 

Hazel Sometime a bit later 08:56 AM

 

I read this a good few years ago after seeing the film starring John Cusack. I really love Savannah and the concept of this eccentric little town that seems cut off from anything else. The characters really stuck in my mind. I would love to visit Savannah but the heat would just about finish me off.

 

Grammath and a bit later still 02:07 PM

 

This has been on the TBR mountain for longer than I care to think about. In general, the southern United States can be a fascinating and bizarre place, and a lot of the literature set in the area reflects that, which is what attracted me to this book in the first place.

 

Not sure if I should be bumping it up or not on this basis.

 

megustaleer not too much later than that 03:42 PM

 

Originally Posted by Grammath

Not sure if I should be bumping it up or not on this basis.

Oh do!

Although Flingo is right about part 2 being rather slow the rest of the book is worth it.

 

I suppose it is not as jaw-dropping as it was when first published, but the eccentric and exotic characters are still enjoyable.

 

Flingo and not too much later again! 04:50 PM

 

Originally Posted by megustaleer

Oh do!

 

I'd second that - I did really enjoy the first part and that alone makes the book well worth reading!

 

Mungus And finally, later that day 05:02 PM

 

Originally Posted by Flingo

I'd second that - I did really enjoy the first part and that alone makes the book well worth reading!

 

Thirded, even if you abandon it when if becomes hard going, the first part is guaranteed to make you want to visit Savannah.

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Interesting that you all prefered the first half to the second. I was the opposite. I had chosen it for my RL book club because I had read his more recent, and in my opinion, superior book City of Falling Angels, based in Venice. I suppose as I was reading the beginning, I was wondering what the other book club members would be thinking of it, and I thought it was too slow to start, the first few chapters a bit boring. I like trials, so I suppose that's why I prefer the book once it evolves into that.

 

Another difference between the two books, I thought, was I didn't feel the characters in Venice were exaggerated, yet I think the ones in Savannah were. Don't get me wrong, the characters in Venice are just as extreme, but I "believed" them.

 

If you ever get a chance to see him speak, do. I saw him at Oxford Lit Fest and it was a highly entertaining talk.

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I saw him at Oxford Lit Fest and it was a highly entertaining talk.

We might have been sat next to each other! It was that talk that encouraged me to buy both books, although I haven't read City of Falling Angels yet, and caused me to push my book group to read it.

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We might have been sat next to each other! It was that talk that encouraged me to buy both books, although I haven't read City of Falling Angels yet, and caused me to push my book group to read it.
Small world... I'm trying to remember when it was - 2006? I had my kids with me (they enjoyed it) and my husband asked if he was considering writing about Oxford. Just in case you remember that... I'm sure mine were the only kids there so we might have stood out.

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Small world... I'm trying to remember when it was - 2006? I had my kids with me (they enjoyed it) and my husband asked if he was considering writing about Oxford. Just in case you remember that... I'm sure mine were the only kids there so we might have stood out.

I think I do remember your hubby's question - I think we were sat over at the other side of the tent. I think it was 2006 (I went to Oxford in 04/05/06 but gave it a miss this year), we read the book at book club in November '06, so that would tie-in with my poor memory trail!

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I think I do remember your hubby's question - I think we were sat over at the other side of the tent. I think it was 2006 (I went to Oxford in 04/05/06 but gave it a miss this year), we read the book at book club in November '06, so that would tie-in with my poor memory trail!
Just checked the list and our book club read it in May 2006. Oxford Lit Fest is March, so that was probably the one. It just so happened it was my turn to choose a book so soon after the event. How does your RL book club choose?

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I am considering it to be a travel book. I could always move it later, if someone convinces me that it has a proper home elsewhere.

Fiction/crime/ true crime/ biography. It has elements of all of these!

 

I am still happy to re-locate this thread if there is a strong feeling that it would be a better fit elsewhere.

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How does your RL book club choose?

I'm not sure we have a system - it just sort of "happens"! This month someone had suggested doing a classic, so we all put forward ideas and then found one that was not too long and that enough people had an interest in! (The classic we chose was actually The Moonstone as I borrowed it from the library for the BGO read earlier this year and haven't read it yet despite wanting to!)

 

I am still happy to re-locate this thread if there is a strong feeling that it would be a better fit elsewhere.

I think of it as a "biography" - partly about Danny (name?) but more about Savannah - if it's possible to write a biography rather than a history of a town. I reposted the thread into here though as no-one else seemed to feel too strongly either way!

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I think the book shops place it in travel, but I agree, it's a mixture. And the truth is definitely stranger than fiction.

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I read both Berendt's books.

"Midnight in the garden of Good and Evil" is true crime murder written as a travelogue. An excellent movie was made from this story.

 

This is my review on it:

 

This book is brilliantly written in the first person and Berendt himself is a significant player in the events as they unfold. The story is a captivating travelogue that gives an engaging portrait of a colourful southern city and its residents. The plethora of eccentric and bizarre characters makes you forget that they are real people. This novel is an entertaining masterpiece.

 

"The City of Falling Angels" was a total different view. I think Berendt tried the same style but in my view failed terribly.

 

I expected this book to be as good as “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” capturing the essence of the city and its inhabitants what I got was a disappointing and frankly boring narrative. The book started well, introducing the readers to a strange and amusing cast of characters but as the story progresses things crumble as each chapter stands alone and you are faced with a lack of a cohesive plot. I felt more than once like abandoning it but I was determined to finish.

 

I really don't know where these books have a better place but fiction based on facts is a more accurate description for them.

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It's interesting to read that people enjoyed one half of the book more than the other. If I'd read the second half of the book in isolation, I don't think I would have enjoyed it at all - a fairly standard courtroom drama which probably drags on too long. Not my cup of tea.

 

But the first half of the book (essentially a love letter to the town of Savannah and those who live there), did such a great job of introducing the cast of characters that I found myself gripped by the second half, as each side fought to gain the upper hand in the trial.

 

The anecdotes and characters that Berendt presents in the first half of the book were hugely entertaining. Whether any of it is factually accurate or not is really irrelevant; it's excellent travel writing and Savannah is now well and truly on my radar.

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I loved this book when I read it several years ago now. It saved me from the worst cold ever! I couldn't put it down and was sorry when it finished and missed it terribly. Still got it and plan to reread it at some point

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It's a great book, and the Clint Eastwood film of it is a great film IMO.
I agree - I came to the film first. Savannah struck me as somewhere I'd very much like to live...if it wasn't so damned hot.

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