Book review: Gold by Chris Cleave

This book is in bookstores now.

Chris Cleave’s second book, The Other Hand, was the kind of book that changed your life and left you bereft when you finished it. How do you follow that?

Well it seems you wait three years and write something completely different. Gold, his latest novel, is for all intents and purposes a book about cycling. Olympic cycling no less.

Kate and Zoe are best friends and rivals, constantly switching between 1st and 2nd in the world. They’ve known each other for years, grown up training together but one of them chose love, marriage and a child and temporarily got off the bike. The other kept going and has the money, fame and endorsements to prove it. They both have feelings for Jack – appropriate for one – she’s his wife, not so appropriate for her best friend. And then there’s Sophie. A daughter. With leukemia who wants her Mummy to go and win gold, but still wants her Mummy there with her at night.

I’m not going to say anything more than this is so much more than a story about Olympic cycling. It’s not a cheap, cash in on the Olympics story; it’s the Olympics that add the extra background to this.

As always Cleave has crafted characters you can believe in, you can hope for. Sophie in particular is very well written – whilst it’s hard to feel anything but sympathy for an 8 year old that might be dying, Cleave has resisted the urge to man handle our emotions towards a TV movie “disease of the week” finish. Like Charlie the Batman lover in The Other Hand, Sophie is a real child going through a tough time.

The obvious parallels between dealing with suddenly changing rules as you compete for a gold medal, and fighting a potentially fatal illness are obvious. So too is the idea of personal integrity being the harshest judge of all yet Cleave manages to write in a way that makes us forget the obvious and dwell in the tiny details that say so much more. Yes, a lot of this novel is about the sport of cycling but it’s not about the bikes – it’s about the people racing them and the people that keep their lives running. It’s about love and loyalty, ambition and loss. It’s about people; after all, that’s what Cleave writes best.

A perfect book for a wet weekend or book group.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan

 by Chris Cleave
Published by Sceptre
ISBN 9780340963449