Apr 01, 12
Read in April, 2012
I am not particularly interested in sport, neither as participant nor spectator so if I hadn't been swept away by Chris Cleave's previous writing, it is doubtful that I'd have picked up a novel with 3 Olympic cyclists as key characters. Anyone who passes over Gold for this reason is passing up on the chance of a whirlwind of a reading experience so don't let those miserable memories of despotic PE teachers put you off and give your brain a gentle work out in the process.
So, let's set the (Olympic..) record straight, this is not a novel about sporting superhumans, even though they are pretty impressive...we dig deep and discover what makes real people tick when faced with adversary, when illness of a loved one brings you to your knees and you're powerless to do anything but hope that your child is one of the 9 in 10 who survive.
Gold focuses on the experiences of five main characters - 8 year old Sophie who is fighting leukaemia, her parents Jack and Kate, Olympic cyclists preparing for the London games alongside their friend/rival Zoe and trainer Tom. All of the adults are nearing the end of their current careers and have one last shot at Olympic Gold whilst Sophie has the hardest fight of all, the battle to stay alive whilst undergoing aggressive treatment which lowers your defences even further. She uses her imagination and love of Star Wars to harness the Jedi force - anything which encourages a fighting spirit and a positive attitude is going to aid her in the ultimate battle - to stay alive.
From the opening pages, I was fully engaged and committed to this story. Cleave doesn't pull on our heartstrings by thrusting sugary-sweet, put upon characters on the reader, they're all flawed, fully fleshed and make the same mistakes as the rest of us mere mortals. Sophie's story is presented in gritty technicolour - there's no soft focus when she experiences the side effects of chemo or as her last hair falls out. Kate and Zoe have diametrically opposed public personas when it comes to the media - Kate is the people's princess, Zoe, the wicked witch with a touch of glam. I loved how we are drip-fed snippets of their back stories to explain how they are what they are in the present day. Tom the trainer has made these cyclists his focus and his family for so many years but now he has to acknowledge the ravages of time and take another path, one which will put less stress on his dodgy knees. Jack seems to be slightly at a loss, a bit piggy in the middle at times.
I was most pleasantly surprised by Gold - my only criticism is to do with the marketing of the novel rather than the novel itself. The whole device in the blurb about how this is where we normally tell you what the book is about but we're not going to tell you because you don't really need to know. For goodness sake, tell them what it's about and stop the superior self-importance.
Gold is probably the closest I'm going to get to the Olympics but, more importantly, if we all had an ounce of the fighting spirit displayed by young cancer patients like Sophie, we'd all be winners. Thank you Mr Cleave for a story well told.