Book review: Midnight in the Garden
Ok, title is a bit long, so I cut it shorter. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt is a really great novel. From the first page I was hooked on the small town of Savannah and its crazy inhabitants. The book is based on true events that Berendt experienced while he was living in the small town. Well, he originally went there by accident, but loved it so much he rented a flat for a few years.
There is a cast of colourful characters in this book, and Berendt’s clever writing style and vivid recollections (whether accurate or not) make them come alive on the pages. There is a murder-mystery that takes place in the story, but it is not really the main plot of the book. Berendt talks about Savannah’s history, characters, their habits, quirks and the social issues, as well as addressing racial issues that can exist in small towns.
This book was later turned into a movie (1997) which I subsequently watched, but (as is often the case) was disappointed with it. In the book, the author really plays a kind of fly-on-the-wall, but the movie made him more central, even creating a love relationship between him and one of the minor characters, Mandy.
What this book actually did for me was to inspire me to begin writing a book myself. I never imagined that one could get so much value from a book that is mainly about characters, less about storyline. And I know a few colourful characters I would love to profile in a novel of my own!
Small towns tend to be like that, though – they bring out the eccentricities in people that bigger towns and cities do not make allowances for. And people actually have the chance to stand out – not blend in with everything around them.
I see this in the John character (author). Because he came from the big city (New York) he struggled to really stand out among the Savannah people and took on more of an observational role. It was this plainness that actually allowed for him to be trusted by the Savannahians – because he never attempted to steal any of their thunder.