Author: Chris Cleave
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Kate and Zoe have been competing against one another in track cycling since they were just nineteen years old, though they have since become dear friends. Now, a lifetime later, they are both facing their last chance to win gold at the Olympics. For Zoe, though she’s won multiple gold medals, cycling is all she has. If she loses, she may break down completely because she has nothing left. On the other side, Kate has continually sacrificed her chances at winning for her daughter, Sophie, who is sick with cancer. This is her one and only shot at a gold medal. As these two best friends compete against one another one last time, will this break what they have worked so hard to accomplish?
With the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics coming up at the end of July, Gold is a timely novel about two British cyclists who are both desperate to win gold. Chris Cleave is an absolute master in writing compelling, layered characters, and it shines through in every moment the reader spends with Kate and Zoe. On the surface, and at first glance, Kate is the more sympathetic of the two. She has given up her chance at gold time and again because being a mother comes first. She’s a kind, caring person who also happens to be a very gifted cyclist, and the reader will want nothing more than for Kate to come home with the gold.
It also doesn’t help that Zoe is rather unlikeable when Gold begins. It seems as though she will do anything to win, at any cost, and it is a bit unpalatable. As Zoe and Kate’s history is fleshed out, the reader comes to see how desperate Zoe is to win. But the genius of this novel lies in the reasons behind Zoe’s determination. She has to win because if she doesn’t, she doesn’t know who she is. She has nothing if she doesn’t have the gold. The sheer sadness of this realization is enough for Zoe to gain the reader’s sympathies, or at least their pity. The emptiness of her life, and the void which she feels within herself, is almost painful to read about.
The most surprising aspect of Gold is how suspenseful it is. Cleave weaves an intricate tale about these two cyclists, tugging on the reader’s emotions and investing them in Kate’s and Zoe’s futures. As they learn more about each of these characters, as well as get to know Nick, Kate’s husband, and Sophie, her incredibly adorable, Star Wars-obsessed eight year old daughter, it becomes a race to discover the final outcome. Who will it be – Kate or Zoe? And what of Sophie’s sickness, and the fact that she is more important to Kate than any gold medal out there? Will Kate once again be forced to choose?
Even if you aren’t interested in sports or the Olympics, Gold is an absolute must-read. These characters leap off the page, and Cleave does an excellent job establishing and explaining the complicated history among them while keeping up the fast pace and suspense of the book. It’s an incredible achievement, a literary novel that is completely unputdownable and compulsively readable. I can’t praise Cleave’s latest book highly enough, and look forward to discovering what subject he tackles in his next book.