Gold, by Chris Cleave.
"Puts the whole thing into stark perspective," the sportscaster was saying. "We can easily forget, underneath all the glitz and the glamour of an Olympics, that these are real people, real families like yours and mine." - from Gold, page 241 -
Zoe and Kate are world class speed cyclists whose acceleration around the Velodrome is only matched by their desire to win gold at the Olympics. Adversaries on the track, the two have a complicated friendship that has survived for over a decade. Zoe is a damaged, yet talented athlete who harbors a loss so wrenching she buries it beneath her obsessive desire to win at all costs.
Off the bike she was like a smoker without cigarettes, never sure what to do with her hands. As soon as she got off the bike, her heart was expected to perform all these baffling secondary functions like loving someone and feeling something and belonging somewhere -- when all she'd ever trained it to do was pump blood. - from Gold, page 35 -
Kate, on the other hand, has a heart which absorbs the pain of others and aches for her eight-year-old daughter Sophie, who is struggling to win a battle with leukemia. On the track, Kate is a fierce competitor, but off the track she is a mother who will do anything for the daughter she loves.
Jack, Kate's husband, has tasted gold at the Olympics ... and over the years has found himself pushed and pulled between both Zoe and Kate, and forced to make choices he would rather not make.
Then there is Tom, the women's aging coach. Tom has a shattered past and a body which is gradually betraying him. He has focused his life on one goal: making Zoe and Kate the fastest women in the world on the track, while preparing them both for gold in London. But when relationships become strained and everything is at stake, how will he guide Kate and Zoe towards their future?
He was the best coach he knew. He had nothing else in his life, and his focus was perfect and absolute. He knew everything there was to know about making human beings go quicker, but nothing at all about how to make them stop. - from Gold, page 286 -
Chris Cleave has written a novel that is as much about redemption as it is about the fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled world of the Olympic athlete. The characters are flawed, sometimes unlikable, and yet wholly believable as their lives unfold in a non linear fashion. There are unexpected twists and turns, as they all wrestle with their past demons and struggle to find a balance between victory and something less tangible but no less rewarding. At the center of it all is Sophie, a little girl who revels in her fantasy world of Star Wars, while battling to win the biggest fight of her young life.
I am so glad I chose to read this book while the actual London Olympics is taking place. Cleave's prose is luminescent, heart-pounding, and deeply introspective. He writes in a note at the end of the book that part of his research was shadowing a physician at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. That experience clearly impacted the writing of this novel which is not just about the extent to which athletes push their bodies, but also about what it means to parent a sick child. As Cleave writes: "Caring for sick children is the Olympics of parenting."
Gold is about what it means to feed one's ambitions at the risk of losing everything else; it is about the deep love of a parent for a child and how our lives can change direction in the blink of an eye. Readers who love a great story and flawed characters, and those who have ever loved a child, will not want to miss Chris Cleaves' latest novel.
Five stars out of five.
FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".