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Friday, February 04, 2011

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

A non-fiction novel comparable to works such as In Cold Blood, John Berendt's Midnight in the Garde of Good and Evil is as much a portrait of a city as it tells the story of a murder and the legal pursuit of the murderer. Berendt had moved South from New York, at first staying intermittently in Savannah later on almost constantly. He meets and portrays the colourful characters that make up this Georgian town and its century-old aristocracy. The author almost plays the role of a Jack London venturing amongst the natives to emerge with stories to tell on their way of life, on their rituals and customs. He is an astute observer and some of the fringes of Savannah's (white) society provide him with enough material to furnish much of the book with mysterious or amusing anecdotes.

Yet, the novel were little but a collection of virtually unrelated tall tales if not for the murder of a young part-time prostitute and ruffian who is shot by an established - if recent - member of Savannah's high society. Most of the second part of the novel is taken up by his attempts to win acquittal against the societal and political forces that would prefer to see him fade out of sight.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is not great literature, it is not comparable to great Southern Gothic writers, but it is entertaining and serves as a nice introduction into the recent history of a town that I've been too and which of course is an - exceptional and unique of course - example of how the South might be racist, homophobic and xenophobe but provides such a great fodder for literary exploits.

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