Technically, I suppose MitGoG&E (I am not calling it that all the way through the review; the book in question will henceforth be referred to as “Midnight”) is a travel book. That is an entirely unfair characterisation. It would be like calling Post Mortem a forensic pathology textbook.
Midnight is something much more interesting and thrilling – it’s a work of top-flight, Pulitzer-Prize-worthy journalism.
Overall: 9/10. Buy it.
Whenever anyone discusses Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the first topic that comes up is the little factoid that this book managed to singlehandedly increase tourism to Savannah, Georgia by some astonishing power of ten. When you read the book, it’s not really suprising.
Midnight is an engaging, engrossing little book that looks entirely innocuous on the shelf, then, when you take it home, it whacks you over the head and threatens you with one of the main character’s antique German pistols. It has so much intrigue, so many implausibly interesting characters and such a wealth of plot that I had to re-read the introduction to persuade myself that I was reading non-fiction.
It’s hard to come up with four meaningful categories for a book so that I can follow my normal review format. If I rated it by, say, characterisation, voice, and all that, I’d sound like an English teacher (which is something I’m singularly unqualified for). In lieu of that, a little overview of the book should give you a rough idea of whether or not you’ll like it.
Midnight is the story of a New York City expat, who becomes enamoured with the weirdness of Savannah and ingrains himself into its social circle, dutifully documenting it as he goes. John Berendt is good at what he does – the first-person voice of the text has an endearing, intimate quality to it that makes it sound like Bill Bryson might after a couple of stiff drinks.
As mentioned before, the events of the book are (we are led to believe – I haven’t chased it up for myself) entirely true. That only makes them less believable – especially when you encounter the strange characters that make up Berendt’s circle of acquaintances. These people are either made up, or too weird to make up – and you can’t help but be intrigued by them, and by the way Berendt explores their foibles and their grievances – of which there are many.
Oh yeah, there’s a murder or two as well. That said, it’s not a murder mystery – it does turn into a legal narrative toward the end. That said, it’s not a John Grisham novel – and thankfully, it doesn’t try to be. The pace slackens toward the end, as the events stretch out, but to be honest, that’s the only bad thing I can say about this book. I was up until a quarter past three finishing it.
See above for what I think. Buy this book and then lock up your copy so everyone else has to buy it as well.