Book Shelf: Gold by Chris Cleave

Book Shelf: Gold by Chris Cleave
Review by Brooke Lehmann

Chris Cleave is quite the astonishing writer. Having released his first novel, Incendiary, in 2005 – a bold depiction of one woman's view of the 'War on Terror' – and receiving high accolades, he followed up his stark debut with the spellbinding The Other Hand (2008), a story of a Nigerian woman and an Englishwoman whose worlds collide in an unfortunate and haunting circumstance. 

These works have marked the Englishman as one to watch; suffice it to say, his latest novel Gold (Sceptre), has been met with some anticipation.

As with all Cleave's books to date, the publisher blurbs don't give too much away in regard to the story's plot, so, Gold had clouded around it the usual curiosity that comes with this tantalising mystery. Allow me to be the one to enlighten you.

Zoe and Kate have been in the cycling game since they were 19 years old. Meeting at an Elite Prospects Programme, the two quickly became the hopefuls for England and future gold medals. Their lives revolve around training, racing, and, of course, Olympic gold.

The two women are coached by ex-olympic cyclist Tom, who comes with his own haunted past. A slightly defeated Aussie who doesn't shy away from the harsh truth of sport and life, Tom's pearls of wisdom include, "Sweetheart, fair is a hair colour."

Single and rash, Zoe's incipience often sees her getting into trouble with the press and life in general. Her incessant focus on winning sees her often stooping to skulduggery in order to psyche out her friend and rival, causing tension on the track.

In contrast, Kate's humble disposition leaves her vulnerable to her fierce friend while her life proves to be challenging on a remarkably different scale – trying to juggle her daughter, who suffers from leukemia, and fellow cyclist husband Jack with her Olympic dreams.

When a rule change for the 2012 London Olympics only allows one rider from each competing country to enter, Zoe and Kate's friendship is brought to new extremes. Throw in a love triangle and we've got the makings of one emotional roller-coaster.

One of the most exciting things about Cleave's writing is the intricacy and specificity with which he forms his prose. Nothing is out of place – everything is well thought out and, consequently, situated in its rightful place.

Gold continues to display this discipline, however, it seems to lack some of the fire and heart that is a Cleave idiosyncrasy. The depth of his research is evident, but something seems amiss in the delivery; it just doesn't take you on the journey he is clearly trying to achieve. It seems only a shallow surface.

Aside from these shortcomings, Gold remains, at heart, a Cleave wonder. Sports fanatics and those who enjoy the journey of embracing one's past and running with it will find Gold taking them on an effortless campaign of Olympic proportions that is not without purpose nor pleasure, pedalling a little something for everyone.

For those who missed the Games in London, more particularly the cycling, Gold may be the next best thing.