Thursday, 7 June 2012

Gold by Chris Cleave

 Help! My Chain Came Off headquarters has been a little quiet over the past few weeks and the reason for this silence is I have been busy reading! Ok, that’s not all I have been doing, I have been on many cycling adventures in between eating jubilee cake, and crocheting a never ending blanket...

So what is this book you have been reading? I hear you ask, And why are you mentioning it here for goodness sake?! Why, it's a novel all about our shared passion, CYCLING! What more can you want?

Gold is the third novel by Chris Cleave following his international bestseller The Other Hand. You may say this is my contribution to the Olympic furore sweeping the UK right now because as it happens, Gold is the story of the entwined lives of three Olympic sprint cyclists preparing for the 2012 London games.  I’m not one to read stories about sport (yawn), but this book has taught me to not make assumptions that sporting stories are just action and testosterone – although you’ll never catch me reading a sporting biography!

No, this story is more than that! Set in the present day Gold documents three days of the athlete's lives. Through the athletes memories the reader pieces together each individuals past, from finding out why they decided to start track cycling, to competing in Beijing and Athens. It is the story of winning in life, on and off the track.

Gold is rich in twists and turns following the characters, Kate and Jack who are juggling their olympic dream whilst looking after their terminally ill child, Sophie. Then there is Zoe, Kate's best friend and arch rival on the track. Zoe is a cold, hard, headstrong character who's only purpose in life seems to be to cycle and win. Zoe and Kate wouldn't be friends if it wasn't for Kate's ability to wash over and forgive Zoe's constant attempts to sabotage Kate's life whilst they compete with each other for more than just a gold medal.  And then there is the trusty coach, Tom who binds Zoe and Kate together. Tom is a rock to Kate and Zoe and on the verge of retirement, he seems to have more regrets in life than you have had punctures.
Cleave has successfully mastered the ability to convey in the narrative the pressure and adrenaline you feel as an Olympic cyclist during a race, emphasising the importance of every millisecond when you want Gold. The story reflects a race in itself, with the momentum building in every turn of the page, the characters come up against both physical and emotional challenges which test them to the limit.

The most anguishing ordeal is experienced by nine year old Sophie fighting the ultimate battle of them all, Leukaemia. Here we are transported into Sophie's mind as she drowns out the reality of her life by living in an imaginary Star Wars world.  It sounds dark and depressing, but somehow Cleave makes these scenes seem endearing and innocent.

Gold comes to a climax when we see Zoe and Kate line up to ride the race of their life. Cleave leaves you hanging onto every word as he describes the intensity of the sprint in minute detail projecting the drama and the grace of the novel into one single event. This is where Cleave's writing is gold in itself. An example:
'As they came to the last curve, sparks were detonating in her retinas from the effort. She flashed out of the curve into the last straight, sensing the disruption in the airflow and hearing the roar of the wheels as Zoe came out of her shadow and pulled up alongside her.'
 (Hmmmmm...sounds like a normal ride home up Crouch Hill to me!)

This book leaves you yearning for each race. It has the power to move you as it explores the heights of human ability, both emotionally and physically. From training your body and mind for gold, to dealing with a terminal illness, the characters realise the biggest race of their life is off the track as they try to contend with what really is important. Chris Cleave writes beautifully capturing in words the rich array of human emotions.

Some people may say that a novel about the Olympians being published a month before the London Olympics 2012 may seem a bit contrived, but there was something special about finishing the book and thinking about the lives of our own British sprint cyclists preparing for the upcoming games. If this story does one thing, it makes you realise that Olympians have to deal with the same problems as the rest of us.

So with that in mind, no pressure now, but COME ON HOY AND PENDLETON, REACH FOR GOLD!

Can you recommend any good cycling novels?


Anonymous said...

The Escape Artist by Matt Seaton - not a novel, but the book that made me understand cycling, while at the same time chronicling the loss of his wife to cancer. Highly recommended.

anniebikes said...

Oh, don't get me started...I love reading about cycling. My favorite has to be Miles from Nowhere. It's about Americans who cycled across the United States then around the world. It's exciting and inspiring.
My cycling books are reviewed here:

Jemma said...

Thanks for the link! I will check it out your reviews this weekend. I'm in need of a new book to read now!

Theodora C. said...

Your blog is gorgeous,i am your new follower<33
Wanna follow eachother so we could keep in touch?
Kisses and Hugs!

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