I’ve just finished reading “Gold”, the new, and as yet, unpublished novel by Chris Cleave. When you have read previous books by an author, there is a weight of expectation and a stack of preconception you bring to the table and this is a hard threshold to mount, in order that you might treat this latest offering in a fair and unbiased manner. I’m not a book reviewer by trade and I acquired my copy through a friendly bookshop manager, with whom I had shared my copy of “Incendiary”.
“Gold”, is essentially the story of two olympic athletes who have very differing personal styles. Zoe is an extremely individual person who has a hedonistic approach to “civilian” life. Her actions and lifestyle put her on a collision course with the media and at odds with her coach “Tom”, an older man, who has his own very personal previous history.
In fact, in our very first meeting with Tom, we see him struggling with crippling arthritis in an almost absurd scenario involving his bathroom. This is both amusing and desperately sad. It is only when we start to learn of his troubled family history, that we start to see his reasons for continuing in the career he has chosen.
“Kate”, however is both Zoe’s training partner and her biggest rival. Kate is married to another olympic athlete “Jack” and they have a daughter “Sophie”. We discover very quickly that Sophie is suffering from a terminal illness and we find this family in the midst of coping with training for the 2012 olympics and coping with the demands of looking after Sophie.
The histories of Kate, Zoe, and Jack are all explored and this allows us to look at how our early family life shapes our internal motivation and obsession.
Ultimately this book is about selfish obsession and above all the determination to excel, whatever the cost to our lives and those around us.
We also see how even the seemingly smallest piece of news can have far reaching effects on an otherwise stable situation. This happens twice in this book, in very different ways.
The book does build to a rapid sprint climax, and the last quarter is devoted to a very detailed analysis of a race and another personal event. We see deeply into the psyche of the elite athlete.
It is always tempting to compare to other works and it is very different to Incendiary (which is superlative) and Little Bee (I bought the US version). I enjoyed it enormously and so much so, that I do not wish to give away any of the details.