Friday, August 31, 2012

Gold: A Novel by Chris Cleave

Book Description:
What would you sacrifice for the people you love? 
KATE AND ZOE met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling—a sport that demands intense focus, blinding exertion, and unwavering commitment. They are built to exploit the barest physical and psychological edge over equally skilled rivals, all of whom are fighting for the last one tenth of a second that separates triumph from despair. Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose. 

Kate is the more naturally gifted, but the demands of her life have a tendency to slow her down. Her eight-year-old daughter Sophie dreams of the Death Star and of battling alongside the Rebels as evil white blood cells ravage her personal galaxy—she is fighting a recurrence of the leukemia that nearly killed her three years ago. Sophie doesn’t want to stand in the way of her mum’s Olympic dreams, but each day the dark forces of the universe seem to be massing against her. Devoted and self-sacrificing Kate knows her daughter is fragile, but at the height of her last frenzied months of training, might she be blind to the most terrible prognosis? 

Intense, aloof Zoe has always hovered on the periphery of real human companionship, and her compulsive need to win at any cost has more than once threatened her friendship with Kate—and her own sanity. Will she allow her obsession, and the advantage she has over a harried, anguished mother, to sever the bond they have shared for more than a decade?

I read this book back in July, with the 2012 Summer Olympics about to start. This book offers an incredible glance into the world of competitive cycling. Kate and Zoe, both coached by Tom and both tied to fellow cyclist Jack, have been battling it out since age 19 when they were picked to be the future of British cycling. Through three Olympics, countless championships, and years of riding against each other they have somehow maintained a relationship both on and off the track. In the run-up to the London games, Kate and Zoe are battling for a spot on the podium while Kate and Jack are battling for the life of their daughter Sophie, fighting through her second bout of leukemia.

I don't want to spoil the plot (though as a reader, the big twist was no real surprise at all) but I have to say it was too complicated and unbelieveable. Tom seemed to serve no real function other than to generate sympathy for Zoe, a strangely unsympathetic character. Reading this, it is difficult to see how anyone could maintain a relationship with someone so mentally troubled.

That said, the writing was so good that I was swept along despite the mediocre plot and implausible relationships. Once I started reading, I wasn't able to put this book down even though part of me was rolling my eyes when reading. I was genuinely interested in the lives of these characters though the only one I felt an emotional connection to was poor Jedi Sophie, trying to battle her cancer with the Force.

A good read, but not a great one- 5 star writing undermined by a 3 star plot.

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