With the London games looming, it’s difficult not to catch Olympic fever. After reading Chris Cleave’s Gold, I’ll be paying closer attention to the cycling events. Sprint. Individual pursuit. These were the races vividly portrayed in this story about Zoe, Kate and Jack: three cyclists who met each other on the same day when they were 19; and how their odd little triangle of love and friendship developed over the next 13 years, through victories and defeats in Athens, Beijing, and potentially London.
In a recent interview Cleave said that’s he’s often accused of writing sad books. He explained that readers of his other books—Little Bee and Incendiary—don’t understand that by showing his characters enduring extreme circumstances, their inherent goodness is ultimately revealed.
In Gold, the extremes are found in sickness and health. Cyclists at the peak of their careers are vying for their last chance at Olympic gold, while their eight-year-old daughter is battling leukemia. Each extreme requires great sacrifice, and Cleave weaves the story in such a way that readers will play the “what if” game. What choices would they make if faced with the same issues?
I give Cleave high marks for plot. The story was delivered in such a straight-forward manner that readers will believe their own assumptions about what will happen. But Cleave toys with the mental reading game, proving assumptions wrong and leaving you shaking your head at the brilliance of his move.
Beautifully penned, Cleave illustrates the ultimate sacrifice required in both sickness and health. When ambition is sacrificed for love, the quest for Olympic gold becomes a discovery of the richness of life.