- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 28, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679751521
- ISBN-13: 978-0679751526
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 2,027 customer ratings
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story Paperback – June 28, 1999
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John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil has been heralded as a "lyrical work of nonfiction," and the book's extremely graceful prose depictions of some of Savannah, Georgia's most colorful eccentrics--remarkable characters who could have once prospered in a William Faulkner novel or Eudora Welty short story--were certainly a critical factor in its tremendous success. (One resident into whose orbit Berendt fell, the Lady Chablis, went on to become a minor celebrity in her own right.) But equally important was Berendt's depiction of Savannah socialite Jim Williams as he stands trial for the murder of Danny Hansford, a moody, violence-prone hustler--and sometime companion to Williams--characterized by locals as a "walking streak of sex." So feel free to call it a "true crime classic" without a trace of shame.
“Elegant and wicked…. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil might be the first true-crime book that makes the reader want to book a bed and breakfast for an extended weekend at the scene of the crime." —The New York Times Book Review
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But enough about me. I love this book for its rich characters - Minerva, the Voodoo priestess, Chablis, the trans princess, Jim Odom, the charming lawyer-criminal throwing perpetual parties...only a few of the people of this book who now seem so real to me. The stories will linger with you like the moral ambiguity of Savannah, beautiful but fickle, indifferent but engaging. And I know, for my part, I will revisit it enthusiastically from time to time.
I gave up in frustration. What a disappointment. Savannah, just like every other American city is rich with interesting history and characters. Tell us a story about it, them or ANYTHING sometime soon please.
PS - I recall seeing the movie years ago and believe it took place in New Orleans not Savannah. Like the book, it was in love with itself for whatever reason.
But, these were all real people, and that brings the book up to 4 stars.
When this book first came out about 25 years ago, I remember that I was in our local public library and I saw the cover and was captivated by it. I never did pick up the book , ecause I had too many others at just that moment. (For the record, that captivating cover was the "Bird Girl" statue.)
25 years later, I did get the paperback--with the same cover-- and I'd have to say that that is one childhood thing that was trained.
The United States is such a huge place, that it is easy to forget that not everybody does things the same way across the entire country. And there are enclaves that have survived much as they are for the last several hundred years. Savannah is one such of those enclaves.
It also shows me good and decent black people doing classy things, and there are only a few books that deal with that. (In that way, this book reminds me of Dorothy West's book "The Living is Easy.")
Verdict: Recommended at the second hand price.
Top international reviews
I'd heard of the book but it was viewing the film (1997) that caused me to buy and devour the book. How fortunate in being able to see the same story so successfully treated in two genres. But is it the same story? Not quite.
Clint Eastwood's direction is full of colour and yet it is centred on the murder of Billy Hanson by Jim Williams. The victim is well played by Jude Law and the horror of his last smile will haunt me for some time. However, it is Kevin Spacey who hypnotises the audience in his portrayal of the wealthy, and menacingly calm, Williams. The other character to remain with me for some time is that of the Lady Chablis, an over-the-top cameo if ever there was. Essentially the film is a mixture of comedy and thriller, set in a colourful city, which culminates in a dramatic trial. Eastwood has been criticised for the slow approach but he has discarded much of the book, merged characters and transferred conversations and encounters to tighten the subject-matter. He succeeds but simplification removed much of the fascination of that collection of weird personalities which dominate the book. For example, the cinematic Lady Chablis dominates visually: on the page it's the flexibility of her tongue which amazes. Luther Driggers on film is just weird: in the book he's a REAL eccentric - and his wife, hilarious. Joe Odom takes a back-seat in the film (and some of his characteristics are `stolen' by Jim Williams while his girlfriend, Mandy, becomes the love- interest which is but an intrusion into the overall mood). Minerva in the film stays a macabre enigma: in the book she spews out a flood of mumbo-jumbo while obsessed with a catalogue of petty anxieties. What may appear weaknesses in the film are due largely to the need to get the story over in 155 minutes.
With a book the author has no such trouble. So Jim Morrison can play with his guests and yet stay a character relating to all those in the tale. So we have Joe Odom as the `sentimental gentleman' who never quite matures; Mandy Nichols whose loyalty is shattered along with her illusions; Luther Driggers, `the inventor', is easier to understand - even if he does tape flies to his head; Emma Kelly is `the lady with six thousand songs'; Danny Hansford (why was his name changed to Billy Hanson?) is a `walking streak of sex', The Lady Chablis delights as `the Grand Empress of Savannah'; the slimy Lee Sadler, believing `It aint braggin' if y'really done it', who orchestrates the onslaught on Jim Williams, never appears on screen. My quotations are chapter titles in the book so you can appreciate the depth of characterisation.
The city of Savannah is the star, with the descriptions of its rich past and transformed future. The reader can appreciate the vibrant rivalries under the surface of this transformation: the film-goer can just suck in the splendours of that miracle.
There's a quirkiness in the dialogue and the thinking patterns of the characters which gripped an Englishman like myself. It's not just how life moves along differently, it's how the actors interpret that life as it proceeds. For example, Jim Williams never expects to be charged with murder when considering the lax attitude towards killing in Savannah - among certain sections of the community. Women like Vera Dutton Strong, Emma Adler, Serena Dawes and Claire Moultrie are delights on the page but omitted from the film because of their irrelevance to the main plot.
My conclusion is quite simple. To really enjoy 'Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil' both read the book and see the film - and then do it over again so you can appreciate how each plays off the other. You'll get more than double the fun.
The authors’ ‘fly-on-the-wall’ style often created a remote and objective ‘feel’ to the story. Thus,one did not fully engage with the characters on an emotional level . This, I believe, allowed freedom in not judging but sitting back and enjoying the description and actions of the characters to the full. It was almost like watching a play in which all the action was true and all the more astounding because of it.
A great book. Extremely funny at times.
Leaving the reader to judge was refreshing. Amid it all, a man was killed and one questions whether justice was done.
A good book club book.
Part True-Crime thriller, part travelogue, part quirky character study and part eulogy on man's love of a city, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a truly unique book, and that is something that you can't say too often anymore.
The book revolves around the true life case of Jim Williams and his trial for his lover/employee Danny. Williams insisted it was self-defence, but the city were determined to charge him with murder. But the murder is just a centre piece for a study of the eccentric city of Savannah, clinging to the past and it's own inimitable style in the Old South. It is a city concerned with enjoyment and hedonism, but never in a self-destructive way, inward looking, but not prohibitively and it is populated by a cast of characters that are so bizarre as to be real.
Men walking imaginary dogs, erudite conmen, voodoo priestesses and rowdy transexuals fill the pages of this novel and make it eminently readable. Indeed so intriguing are the people within the book that it is very easy to get swept along with the sheer enjoyment of the place and to forget that the book revolves around a very real killing.
Berendt has managed to create something which spans many genres, but holds a place that is firmly it's own and that, like Savannah is something to be celebrated in this age of idendikit, fads and fashions.
The social traditions of the Deep South take quite a beating as the story progresses.
As I read this book in the kindle edition without introduction, I am unable to comment on the authenticity of the story or whether these outrageous characters are drawn from life or cleverly tweeked into existence by the author John Berendt.
There are moments when the flow of the narrative tends to falter as we turn from a hilarious tea party back to the court case then retreat to a character we haven't seen for a few chapters but all in all, I found this a very entertaining and different read.
Well writen, in a natural flowing style. Entertaining, often hugely funny, convincing. The first chapters maybe be considerd slow, drawing the people and the town. But it sets the scene wonderfully. I didnt mind that nothing much was happening because tye trivia of the town's life were so enjoyable to read, like a slow mellow drift down some Southern river.
This is how to write.
In case you're unfamiliar with the tale: it's basically about the real experiences of writer John Berendt whilst living in Savannah. Initially the book began as an account of the city. However, this changed when a male prostitute was found shot and his lover was put on trial no less than four times. Berendt is a wonderful writer and tells the tale without resorting to hyping up the murder. It's not a crime thriller in the traditional "edge of seat" sense: instead it's an ode to the city and the characters Berendt befriends whilst living there. Perhaps most intriguing is the fact Berendt knew the accused prior to the murder and includes this experience in the novel. I am not quite sure how he succeeds in portraying the people with humanity and insight, whilst remaining detached. He is truly talented and this is undoubtedly book deserving of its' contemporary masterpiece status.
When John Berendt moved to Savannah GA from New York, to live part of the year in this historic city, he could not have known how many interesting people he would meet.
In a very entertaining way he describes the many characters he meets, relates their life stories and his interactions with them. Standing out are the Lady Chablis - nightclub singer, John Williams - owner of a large historic town house, and Minerva - the voodoo lady, but all of the people John meets are portrait in such a way, that the reader feels that they have met them.
Although murder plays an important part in this book, it is the people of Savannah that are the most important.
A travel book of sorts, many people didn't realise this was a real account of John Berendt's time in Savannah and thought he had made it all up. The dialog is witty, and the story of his encounters with the Savannahians interestingly described.
John Berendt fell in love with Savannah, its culture and people. I did too after reading this book. Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys a bit of people watching.
Copy that arrived was an original signed copy in excellent condition.