28 July 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

Flap Insert from ARC: "'Gold' is the story of three friends, Zoe, Jack and Kate, each world-class cyclists training for their last chance at an Olympic medal; Jack and Kate's eight-year-old daughter, Sophie, who is battling a recurrence of childhood leukemia; and the women's coach, Tom, who has known them all since they were kids themselves. Echoing the adrenaline rush of a race around the Velodrome track and weaving seamlessly amid risk, danger, defeat, surrender and triumph like the slimmest tires on the bicycles powered by the most elite athletes in the world, 'Gold' is a profound and exhilarating examination of family, friendship, parenthood, sacrifice and glory."

I loved Chris Cleave's "Little Bee" and was very excited to receive this book. In many ways Cleave did not disappoint - his writing is often extraordinary, and he builds plot tension like a master storyteller. His characters are vivid (even Kate, who is written intentionally to be so bland) and their emotions, triumphs and griefs are real and heart-wrenching. And yet ... this book left much to be desired.

I knew nothing about the sport of cycling when I began reading, but I do love to watch the Olympics! Cleave really brings home the intensity of the competition, making the reader intimately aware of the power of a fraction of a second. Kate, Zoe and Jack are friends, lovers, and fierce competitors. They've lived and worked alongside one another since they were 19, and have seen injury, triumph, childbirth and heartbreak affect them on and off the track. Throw into the mix the girls' curmudgeonly coach Tom, and Jack and Kate's daughter Sophia (who is battling a relapse of leukemia) and you get one tense, sleep-deprived and crazed seeming group.

Despite some entertaining action and competition, the plot was just a little too contrived, the 'twists' a little too easy to see coming. I still enjoyed reading "Gold", it was engaging and difficult to put down. But it doesn't live up to Cleave's other works, and it definitely doesn't strike gold.

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