three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
20-Jan-Feb-2006
By: 
John Berendt
user_rating: 
0

A-CityFallingAngelsTwelve years after his best-selling nonfiction work Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil made Savannah a legend among American cities, Berendt applies the same formula to Venice. Berendt arrives in Venice shortly after a mysterious fire destroys the Gran Teatro La Fenice opera house in 1996, and the subsequent investigation provides a backdrop for his immersion into Venetian high—and low—society. He uncovers a dispute between the heirs of Ezra Pound’s mistress and the shady couple to whom she signed over Pound’s valuable papers. There’s also the Venetian glass blower locked in a quarrel with his estranged son and the poet with multiple wills who committed suicide, leaving part of his $1 million estate to a fruit vendor. Berendt’s book is a social portrait of a centuries-old modern city.
Penguin. 414 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1594200580

USA Today 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In an odd way, Berendt proves himself to be a masterful writer because of what he leaves out. A title about the centuries-old city of Venice could be a real tree-killer of the first magnitude. Instead, Berendt crafts a lean and elegant narrative." Deirdre Donahue

Detroit Free Press 4 of 5 Stars
"[I]f you’re expecting something as picturesque and over-the-top as the murder trial from Midnight perhaps you should take a deep breath before cracking the new book open. Angels is an altogether subtler and more subversive effort." Marta Salij

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Though he lacks a narrative of great urgency, he nonetheless delivers an urbane, beautifully fashioned book with much exotic charm. The authorial gondola glides from one sharp-daggered standoff to another, and the details of these stories are chosen with care." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Berendt’s inquiry into people, places and aspects of Venice that tourists almost never see doesn’t have as strong a narrative line as Midnight, and no one in it is quite so hilariously and engagingly outré as Lady Chablis, the Savannah drag queen, but the story of the Fenice fire and its aftermath is exceptionally interesting, the cast of characters is suitably various and flamboyant, and Berendt’s prose, now as then, is precise, evocative and witty." Jonathan Yardley

Chicago Sun-Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"As a thriller, Falling Angels falls short. As social inquiry, it does better. … It’s a curious book, exhaustive and always readable, but frequently exasperating and ultimately unsatisfying." Carlo Wolff

Philadelphia Inquirer 2 of 5 Stars
"While enchanting, Falling Angels ends up feeling as forced and precious as the title, caroming as it does in search of storied figures with rich pedigrees and shady pasts. It’s a collection of vignettes." Karen Heller

Oregonian 2 of 5 Stars
"The City of Falling Angels falls short, a weakness that originates from the moderately compelling narrative surrounding the fire that Berendt relies on to lend his book cohesion." SARAH GIANELLI

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he formula that worked so well in Midnight fizzles in what seems less like a full-blown book than a series of unconnected magazine articles about people who happen to live in the same place. … Berendt’s take on Savannah amazed and delighted many American readers who had no idea that such a place existed in their midst, whereas there are few surprises about Venice." Mackenzie Carpenter

Critical Summary

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil became such a cultural landmark that it’s no wonder John Berendt waited 12 years to write a follow-up. Berendt’s second book doesn’t steer very far from his first in tone and style: he seems to have changed only the names and places. There’s also less resolution in Falling Angels, which led to the love-it-or-hate-it reviews. Still, it entertains. Berendt has a keen eye for detail and an uncanny ability to insinuate himself into the upper reaches of society, where he pulls back the veneer of gentility and dishes out delicious tales of greed, hate, envy, and conniving. But despite his considerable skills, Berendt doesn’t bring Venice to life as he did Savannah, and his harshest critics found Falling Angels formulaic and disjointed.