I looked forward to reading this book because I had so enjoyed Chris Cleave’s previous novels, Incendiary and Little Bee (called On The Other Hand in England). They were what I call ‘delicious’ books, ones I don’t want to put down with characters that I wanted to get to know.
His new novel, Gold, did not do that to me. I completed it and enjoyed it in a light-hearted sort of way with flashes of irritation. On the surface, it’s a book about Olympic cycling (the kind that goes round and round a track getting faster and faster). It is also about friendships, suffering, conflict, love – big issues that Cleave has written about so well in his previous novels.
The two main characters are Zoe and Kate, rivals who have become friends who are both going to go to the 2012 Olympics in London to represent Britain. Zoe is single, driven to the point of recklessness, a smoker and drinker, one of those spiky sort of people you wonder why anyone likes her. Kate is married to Jack, also an Olympic cyclist, who is good-looking and causes Kate to wonder why he even likes her. They have a daughter who has leukaemia and we get to know her mainly through her obsession with Star Wars (a narrative device which generally works though it did become tedious now and then).
Neither character is particularly well depicted, although they are well stereotyped. Zoe is the bad one, a loner although obviously a sensitive soul, and Kate is the good one who has sacrificed a great deal for her daughter. It is quite unfathomable to me how Kate every gets time to train while looking after a gravely ill child, however, she seems to be able to get up to competition standards.
Zoe and Kate’s coach, Tom, is training them for the Olympics when the Olympic Committee announces that only one athlete is allowed per flag, meaning that only of them can ride. They are so close in talent and time that not even Tom can choose. Which means there has to be a final training race to decide.
I won’t give away the twists in the plot, suffice to say the book has a happy ending, all nasty moments are forgotten and everyone is friends by the end. It also has the most beautiful cover.
It’s not a badly written book, and it’s a fairly entertaining holiday read, but don’t expect the joy of Cleave’s carefully nuanced writing that emerged in his previous two novels. The shouts on the back of the books rave about it – it will make you cry, it will make you count your blessings, it will make you good to be alive. I’m afraid it did not such things to me, other than to make me quite glad to have finished reading it.