Gold by Chris Cleave

Gold, by Chris Cleave, is the story of elite cyclists, Zoe and Kate, whose lives become entangled (on and off the track), in their race for Olympic gold.

At first glance, Gold is a sports story. There’s plenty of cycling action and Cleave does a good job of setting the scene in the velodrome and building tension during race scenes. The action is padded out with the themes of ambition, the price of success, and the sacrifices people are prepared to make for what they love.

“Being chased down by another human being is a very intimate thing. She’d never been caught before.”

But Gold is not a sports story at all – cycling is merely the carrier for a story about two women, described from the outset as friends. And that’s where the wheels fell off for me (boom-tish).

Zoe and Kate are very different – Zoe is determined, angry and will win at any cost.

“Zoe, it’s like she’s pursued. I mean she’s more scared of losing than she’s glad about winning.”

Kate is the ‘good sport’, generous and friendly. An initial squabble over a guy (another cyclist, Jack, who Kate ends up marrying), the birth of a baby, two Olympic games, and a few cycling accidents shape the ‘friendship’. Cleave throws in a few plot twists but they did little to distract from the fundamental flaw – nothing about the friendship between Zoe and Kate convinced me. And I couldn’t even stretch it to ‘frenemies’.

“It was always an intricate friendship to navigate, this bittersweet affection of rivals…”

Without spoilers, Zoe does things that I would rate as unforgivable and yet Kate, who is supposedly someone geared toward Olympic gold and therefore no pushover, forgives every betrayal. Ridiculous.

2/5 The plot hangs on friendship and the friendship simply didn’t convince me.

Kate’s post-race treat is a ploughman’s lunch (which is just another name for a platter of tasty bits, isn’t it?).


4 responses

  1. I’ll never forgive Cleave’s travesty of a novel about a Nigerian asylum seeker in the U.K. (Was it called Little Bee? I can’t remember I wiped it from my memory) That book infuriated me no end for some of the reasons you cite here; it was just never very believable. Gold was widely acclaimed here when it was first released but even my deep abiding love of cycling could not bring me to read this. Thanks for your review: it’s confirmed all my doubts about this novel.

    • I can imagine Gold got a lot of publicity in the UK – it was basically about the London Olympics. There wasn’t much fanfare for it in Aus, as compared to Little Bee (which was called The Other Hand in Aus). My book group read Little Bee and I recall being intrigued by the initial scene (the beach confrontation??) and then just increasingly incredulous as the story went on. Like this book, too many far-fetched situations and some handy coincidences, all added up to not much in my opinion. Needless to say, I won’t be reading any more Cleave.

  2. Not for me – I’m convinced by your review & I don’t like sport. However, I am so convinced by your recommendations that it overrides my dislike of sport and I pounced on a copy of The Art of Fielding in a charity bookshop a couple of weekends ago!

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