Chris Cleave - Gold
Well-timed Olympic-themed novel fails to fulfill the promise of its intriguing premise
There’s something intriguing about the mindset of those athletes who are honed from a very young age into Olympic machines. Lives are altered irrevocably in pursuit of a small gold disc and the too-fleeting associated glory: a strange, self-obsessed way of living for relatively meaningless dividends.
Chris Cleave comes tantalisingly close to an understanding of this all-consuming ambition, in his rather well-timed tale of three cyclists taking a last shot at gold at London 2012. However, he doesn’t quite make the podium. Zoe, Kate and Jack’s intertwined love lives drag the book down into soapy, predictable plotting, and none of the three athletes is fully alive on the page.
The motivations of these potentially complex adults are too easily written off as stemming from specific childhood traumas, and due to a surfeit of telling-not-showing in the narration, we never quite feel their drive for gold. Two fantastically-realised supporting characters – a dying eight-year-old and an ageing sports coach – pump blood back into the story, but the medal itself remains elusive.