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am 30. Dezember 1997
I debated about reading this book for a long time. I usually don't read non-fiction, but since my preference is for murder mysteries, what better non-fiction book to read than a true crime story. Boy, am I glad I did. This book was so close to fiction that I had to remind myself frequently that is was a true story. I hope before I die that I'm able to go to Savannah and experience first hand the beauty that John Berendt wrote about so eloquently. I've always prided myself on my active imagination while I'm reading, imagining this person or that (actors, mostly)as certain characters. With this book, I could easily visualize Savannah and it's people. Before I read this book, I watched the special "Midnight in Savannah" on A&E and was "taken in " by this city. The characters are one of a kind-only Lady Chablis could have portrayed herself(?)in the movie. No other could immitate him/her!! And the voodoo woman, the woman of 6,000 songs, the Married Woman's Card Club-who could make this stuff up?!? I laughed alot and shook my head in disbelief at other times. But, when all was said and done, maybe Jim did finally pay the price for murder. After four trials, he was acquitted and dropped dead less than a year later. Go figure!!
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am 31. Juli 2000
This is one bizarre town. That's the feeling I had after reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. John Berendt's bestseller is a portrait of a Southern city - Savannah, Georgia, that is populated by some very unique people, each with his or her own charm, and the murder and trial of one of those citizens. Berendt's writing truly takes the reader with him for this strange yet interesting tour, whether in the home of Jim Williams, the accused murderer, Minerva, the voodoo priestess, and oc course, the Lady Chablis (need I say more ?) The access that he received lets him paint detailed character studies, as well as a narrative that keeps the reader ready for more. A unique and fascinating book.
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am 19. März 1999
Berendt has the uncanny ability to take potentially interesting characters and render them completely pedestrian. The dialogue is particularly innocuous, inartistic and obvious. Nothing of any interest happens in the entire first half of the book -- just Southerners caught in the act of being themselves. National Geographic stuff. Then, thankfully, voodoo enters the picture, and we finally have a decently interesting subject to attend to. Believe me, it is this book's sole saving grace. But it comes way too late and reenters the narrative way too infrequently. Had Berendt focused on the voodoo, he might have produced a genuinely interesting work, instead of this slumbering hulk of a book and its curious band of admirers (none of whom have obviously read a REAL Southern book, like Faulkner's "Light in August"). Want to read a good book in which a city is an important character, but isn't forced on you as one? Try Saul Bellow's love letter to Chicago, "The Actual." Shows you how it's done, John.
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am 16. Dezember 1999
The book unfolds with a simple narrative of a town called Savannah. The author attempts to introduce us to the town's most eccentric folks. As the introductions drag on, one starts to wonder where the story was going on. When part 2 opens with the murder of the hot-blooded lover of a dubiously gay socialite, I figure that it is a whodunit. But it isn't. As you plod through the narratives about the court room drama (which is barely there), you realise that the author still hasn't decide who or what the focus is. When you get to the end of book, you are left wondering why you even bothered to get there in the first place.
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am 1. August 2000
I live just a good 4.5 hr drive from Savannah, and can vouch for its loveliness and seductiveness. Mr. Berendt's descriptions nearly capture its otherworldliness, and I can't imagine a better companion for your Savannah vacation. "Midnight" is a book about coastal southern quirkiness, fantastic beauty, murder, passion, and alcohol. Read it, if you haven't already. It reads swiftly and makes your heart ache that you don't live in a place like that.
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am 24. Juni 2000
Like a sip of mint julep on a muggy summer day, John Berendt'sslow, sultry Southern style of storytelling is a delight. Thismasterfully written nonfiction work has as many outstanding -- and quirky -- characters as the most vividly conceived fiction. And about as many plot turns!
We're taken on a romp through staid and stodgy old Savannah, its historic squares isolated in mystique. As layer by layer is unpeeled, the town's innermost secrets are revealed. From the political intrigue of rival, neighborning restorationists in the silk stocking district to the naughty highjinks of a female impersonator on the wrong side of the tracks, we see it all. We go to incredible parties, visit cemeteries and see all kinds of games that are played.
Along the way, we meet the mad scientist who leashes houseflies and introduces glow-in-the-dark goldfish; the party-hearty lawyer/tour operator whose life is a 24-hour Mardi Gras, going on one step ahead of his creditors, in housing he hasn't paid for; the drug-abusing angry young man, a walking streak of sex, whose main talent is making his car airborne a la Dukes of Hazzard; and the Voodoo priestess in purple sunglasses, her shopping bag containing graveyard dirt and chicken parts, employing black magic on the judicial process.
Each time you think you know the direction this book is headed, it abruptly changes course...
The only disappointment in this book is upon finishing the last page. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an instant classic. Berendt paints a rich, compelling portrait -- a panoramic view.
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am 7. Juni 2000
Non-fiction stories of a unique southern city are nicely interwoven by Esquire writer Berendt, who was lucky enough to live there.
Basically, it is a true crime novel, but it is written with warmth, humor, and a remarkable eye for detail. Berendt takes the reader behind velvet curtains and antique walls into a society where pedigree is based as much on lineage, wealth, and power as on quirky southern traditions like knowing how to serve a fine platter of tomato sandwiches.
Forget Eastwood's oddly disappointing film; this book is quite marvelous. True crime lover? You will enjoy the book's steamy setting and colorful characters, an almost poetic break from the repetitive and merely competant writings by the likes of Ann Rule. Aristocracy - watcher? You will savour the odd little schemes and intrigues exposed without any hint of malice. The tragic saga of one man's extraordinary ascent into high society is presented amidst many delicious (and often hilarious) vignettes of all levels of Savannah's class structure. The author beautifully describes Savannah's magic, mystery, and achingly sad decay. Really, it is a fine tribute to this historic city of likeable conmen, sexy ne'er-do-wells, conniving politicians, and obsessive hostesses.
It's a real page-turner, a good companion if you are planning to visit Savannah.
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am 27. April 2000
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is just that. A snap shot into the lives of the wealthy and privileged of the South captured in the pages of this novel by the more than skilled and nimble fingers of John Berendet. I almost did not want to reach the end. I fell in love with Savanah, with the wild, wacky and wonderful people that fill this book to the brim with a richness that could only be true. There is a reason that Midnight was the longest running hardback on the New York Times Bestsellers list. It was only recently made into a paperback so that it could reach another audience.
This is the story of wealthy and eccectric Jim Williams, who throws lavish parties, is the envy of all of Savannah and equally despised by the same people. During a wild party, one of many, the readers begin to glimpse the underbelly of Jim's world and then suddenly a shot rings out and a man is dead. Accident or murder?
How does a transvestite, a vodoo priestess and UGA fit into the picture? You will have to read this fantastically crafted book to discover the truth. If you love the book as much as everyone else - you should rent the movie (which does not hold a candle to the book) just to see the REAL Lady Chablis as she plays herself in the movie.
Enjoy this one - it is really worth the read!
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am 5. April 2000
I must preface this review by saying I just returned from a week in Savannah...I did all the tourist things...even took "The Book" tour...
I've just re-read "The Book" for the third time and find it even more compelling, charming and utterly delightful than before.
As for its detractors, maybe this is a Southern thing, as we do celebrate our more colorful characters down here...my town's character doesn't collect insects, but he rides a bicycle, sits on Main Street all day, waves at everyone and knows their children...and yes, there are people who are one step ahead of their creditors, but I don't think they have tour buses stopping at their houses for lunch and the occasional hair cut. And no one I've ever known has taken a visitor to a cemetary, no matter how pretty is was, for chicken salad sandwiches and martinis.
I don't think the Married Women's Card Club could have survived for all these years if it were located say, in Chicago or St. Paul. It takes years of strict social standards to keep such rituals as when to serve water and when to "pass the linen" alive. The Olgelthorpe Club, Savannah Yacht Club (and its cousins) are still alive and well in the South, and have not yielded to outside pressures to become politically correct.
The charm and the underbelly of Savannah is real...Berendt captured it on paper and I saw it first hand.
I've never "fallen" for a city like I did for Savannah and, had it not been for "The Book," I would have never visited.
From what I read and what I learned on my trip, Jim Williams would have reveled in the spotlight of "The Book." I'm sure he's looking down (or up, depending on your point of view) and enjoying every snapshot the tourists take of Mercer House. In fact, I could have sworn I saw him looking out of the second story window....or it could have been the sun....
Enjoy!
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am 27. März 2000
I guess I must be outside the book's "target audience"... I get the feeling that to REALLY enjoy the story I'd have to be a resident of some large US metropolis like LA or NY and then I could have all sorts of fun feeling smug while reading about Savannahians and about how quaint and charming Georgians are.
The whole trouble is that the author's Savannah (which sounds pretty charming, really) is neither quaint nor decadent. There is no real darkness on the edge of town nor weird scenes inside the goldmine. Fortunately for the Savannahians they don't seem to have even scratched the surface of real decadence, and I'd love to see what the author would make of places such as Naples.
Overall, the author comes across as leading a very sheltered life. You mean he had to go all the way to Georgia to meet a drag queen? Don't some ppl live a step ahead of their creditors in NY? Aren't there any couldn't-care-less jurors in big cities? Don't these things happen in NY and the rest of the world? All in all, it feels as if the author keeps marvelling at perfectly ordinary things.
Overall, the end result is tepid and forgettable: Berendt has neither the grit of a James Ellroy nor the charm of a Gerald Durrell... Ho hum.
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