I don’t know whether it’s the rubbish weather we’ve been having or celebration at the end of term, but I tore through Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman in less than 24 hours. To start, the story was right in my wheelhouse: beloved Harvard professor under suspicion for murdering a student. Second, comparisons to Tartt, Eugenides and Wolitzer sealed the deal (and fell short, but that is beside the point), and finally, conjecture that the story was based on actual occurrences at Yale. All that spells great summer (or rainy day) read.
In spite of the accolades and my clear enjoyment of Bradstreet Gate, the fact remains that it read very much like a first novel. The structure in the early chapters felt of balanced, the character development didn’t feel quite right and the ending was disappointing.
But there is so much Kirman did right. First, let’s hear it for a cast of naturally multiracial characters! The novel is set mostly in the 1990s, when I went to university, so the fact that the main characters come from varied economic and ethnic backgrounds felt so right. The girl of South Asian descent gets murdered, though her background has nothing to do with it. Another character battles with her Serbian roots. Bravo Kirman, you captured perfectly the people who surrounded me at uni!
Kirman also tackles interesting points regarding class, power and privilege at an Ivy League university. In particular, how this trifecta effects those born without a silver spoon in their mouth and how these ideas were implicit in the discourse of many professors even while they taught Post-Colonial Theory!
Who would like this book? As I mentioned, Bradstreet Gate was touted as falling in line with The Secret History by Donna Tartt and the works of Jeff Eugenides and Meg Wolitzer. That’s setting the bar pretty high, and ultimately Kirman does not reach those lofty heights. But I still enjoyed Bradstreet Gate in spite of its weaknesses. And frankly, it reminded me more of Death of the Black-Haired Girl by Robert Stone (review) more than any of the other books mentioned by the publisher.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
Oh, I like the sound of this one. Straight on the list.
Oh woah, I had been seeing this one around but didn’t hear the Tartt Wolitzer comparisons and definitely didn’t know it was a school setting. You have my attention!
Yeah, I marked this one down because of the academic setting – always fun to read those – and then I checked out that Robert Stone book — that one is academically set too? Okay – I’m going to add that one now.
Academic setting is my genre kryptonite.
I thought about requesting this one when I saw the Tartt & Wolitzer comparisons (and I’m a sucker for school settings), but then saw lots of mixed (and negative) reviews on Goodreads, so ended up passing on it. Plus, I figured there was NO WAY it could live up to those comparisons 🙂 But, you do have me intrigued with the fact that it deals with class, power, and privilege!
It is not nearly to the level of Wolitzer and Tartt, but it is a good first novel. And if you like the academic setting, then I’d say give it a go.
Maybe I need to forget Kirman for now and go straight to the Robert Stone novel; he’s a master. For some reason, I missed that he had passed away in January. Ugh. How could I miss that. How awful. I liked Damascus Gate but Outerbridge Reach was epic, so sad & bleak. Who could recover from that?!
Damascus Gate is my favorite of his, but i haven’t read Outerbridge Reach. Maybe i should.
This sounds like a great debut! I love that the author managed to deal with some complex themes.