Chris Cleave's new novel is the one book you absolutely should read this summer. That might seem like overstating the point or exaggerating for effect, but in this case it's just the truth. GOLD is simply terrific, and there's no better time to read it than in the lead-up to this year's summer Olympics in London.
The "gold" of the title is, of course, the gold of an Olympic gold medal, the one trophy that has eluded Kate Argall, a world-class track cycling champion. Ever since she entered her first race when only a child, Kate has lived, breathed, eaten and slept almost nothing but cycling.
"Chris Cleave...hits so many different emotional chords with GOLD... It all adds up to a novel that will be appreciated at any time, but will be devoured especially now, as Olympic fans consider --- on the page and on their television screens --- what goes into making a true champion."
She's not alone. Her husband, Jack, is also one of the top cyclists in the world, having earned gold in the Athens Olympics. And her best friend, the one who motivates her as much as she infuriates her, is Zoe Castle, a four-time Olympic gold medalist in the same sport, and her rival both inside and often outside the velodrome. The three have trained together since they were competitive youth riders, first identified as potential British cycling team members when they were just teenagers. And the triangle of love, attraction, competition and envy that grew among them has fueled more than a few fires over the years.
But Kate has never had a legitimate chance to win gold, in large part because she has deliberately chosen the responsibilities of family life over the allure of success on the track. Her daughter, Sophie, was just a baby in 2004, and was diagnosed with childhood leukemia a mere six days before Kate was due to ride for gold in Beijing. Now eight-year-old Sophie seems to be responding well to chemotherapy and feeling better --- or at least that is what she wants her parents to believe --- and Kate has one more chance to prove herself to the people she loves.
Kate may be motivated by passion, but Zoe is motivated by anger, fear and countless other hidden demons, which often lead to her lashing out at Kate and Jack or acting out in public. Zoe's exploits are like candy to the British tabloids. The only place she finds focus --- and favor --- is in the confined world of the cycling track.
Chris Cleave, whose second novel, LITTLE BEE, was a book club favorite and a bestselling sensation, hits so many different emotional chords with GOLD. There's certainly the built-in drama of the Big Race, as well as his carefully controlled use of flashbacks and varying narrators to gradually reveal the secrets all the characters carry around with them. There's the complicated relationship of Kate and Zoe, and of Zoe with her painful past. And, of course, there's the absolutely heartwrenching portrayal of Sophie, a champion even at age eight, who is obsessed with Star Wars and who trains herself as a Jedi rather than reveal to her parents just how much pain she's in. She knows their happiness hinges on hers --- as does, possibly, their chances at Olympic victory.
It all adds up to a novel that will be appreciated at any time, but will be devoured especially now, as Olympic fans consider --- on the page and on their television screens --- what goes into making a true champion.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 5, 2012
- Publication Date: April 30, 2013
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- ISBN-10: 145167273X
- ISBN-13: 9781451672732