Building on the tradition of Little Bee, Chris Cleave again writes with elegance, humor, and passion about friendship, marriage, parenthood, tragedy, and redemption.
What would you sacrifice for the people you love?
KATE AND ZOE met at nineteen when they both made the cut for the national training program in track cycling—a sport that demands intense focus, blinding exertion, and unwavering commitment. They are built to exploit the barest physical and psychological edge over equally skilled rivals, all of whom are fighting for the last one tenth of a second that separates triumph from despair.
Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose.
Kate is the more naturally gifted, but the demands of her life have a tendency to slow her down. Her eight-year-old daughter Sophie dreams of the Death Star and of battling alongside the Rebels as evil white blood cells ravage her personal galaxy—she is fighting a recurrence of the leukemia that nearly killed her three years ago. Sophie doesn’t want to stand in the way of her mum’s Olympic dreams, but each day the dark forces of the universe seem to be massing against her.
Devoted and self-sacrificing Kate knows her daughter is fragile, but at the height of her last frenzied months of training, might she be blind to the most terrible prognosis?
Intense, aloof Zoe has always hovered on the periphery of real human companionship, and her compulsive need to win at any cost has more than once threatened her friendship with Kate—and her own sanity. Will she allow her obsession, and the advantage she has over a harried, anguished mother, to sever the bond they have shared for more than a decade?
Echoing the adrenaline-fueled rush of a race around the Velodrome track, Gold is a triumph of superbly paced, heart-in-throat storytelling. With great humanity and glorious prose, Chris Cleave examines the values that lie at the heart of our most intimate relationships, and the choices we make when lives are at stake and everything is on the line.
Cleave (Little Bee) goes for the gold and brings it home in his thrillingly written and emotionally rewarding novel about the world of professional cycling. Zoe Castle and Kate Meadows met at age 19 trying out for the British Cycling Team and have been friends and rivals for 13 years now. Kate might have more natural ability, but Zoe is the more driven of the two. Kate is married to a fellow racer, Jack Argall, and they have an eight-year-old daughter, Sophie, who suffers from leukemia. Zoe is pursued by her own demons and has a tabloid reputation for sleeping around, which doesn't sit well with her agent. Things begin to heat up when the International Olympic Committee changes its rules so that only one cyclist, either Zoe or Kate, will be eligible to compete in the 2012 London Games. Cleave expertly cycles through the characters' tangled past and present, charting their ever-shifting dynamic as ultra-competitive Zoe and Kate are forced to decide whether winning means more to them than friendship, building to a winner-take-all race at the Manchester Velodrome. Cleave likewise pulls out all the stops getting inside the hearts and minds of his engagingly complex characters. The race scenes have true visceral intensity, leaving the reader feeling as breathless as a cyclist. From start to finish, this is a truly Olympic-level literary achievement.
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Simultaneously a heart pounding thrill ride about peak performance and an incredibly intimate gem about the meaning of family and parenthood. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Upon finishing it I told my wife I thought my heart might explode.
Gold: my post Olympic thoughts
I had the overwhelming pleasure of reading "Gold" by Chris Cleeve during my excruciatingly slow travel home from a much needed vacation this past July, one week prior to the start of the London games of Olympiad XXX. I purposely delayed writing my review until after the closing ceremonies as I wished to see how my observations of this poignant work of fiction might marinate in the ensuing two week stew of daily nonfiction athletic drama
Simply put, the book was remarkable. I am indebted to Mr Cleeve for providing me with such a compelling narrative while leaving me with thoughts and questions that were destined to persist beyond the last page. How might Sophie perform in the 2020 games? Might she continue make up for lost time at breakneck speed and qualify for Rio? Might Tom, "against all odds" (Phil Collins devotee that he is) somehow find peace? Will Jack follow in Tom's footsteps and become a coach? This is less rivetting to me since Jack seems to have found contentment (and never really seemed to lack it). I have less to ponder when it comes to Kate who comes precariously close to the "too good to be true" category
And then there is Zoe. Acknowledging Mr Cleeve's background and experience, her character is written as perhaps one of the most compelling high functioning borderline personality disorder patients ever depicted in a work of fiction. Simply put, I could not get enough of her! The disconnect between perception and reality, the cellphone incident, the promiscuity separate from lust and sexuality are all straight out of the classic BPD profile. Not to mention this reader's visceral response of at times wanting to slap her (most of the time) while at other times desperately wishing to hold her and comfort her (as with the fleeting insight and sudden emotional tenderness and vulnerability when she discovered that she was carrying Jack's child). Kudo's to Mr Cleeve for I am uncertain that a top flight analyst with decades of experience treating BPD patients could have done a superior job of depicting Zoe Castle (Castle as in the emperor has no clothes figuratively and frequently literally)
As I watched the heptathlon unfold last week, I couldn't help wondering about Gold Medal winner Jess Ennis, who like the fictional Zoe is extremely attractive, driven, and seen in billboards all over London. With heartfelt apologies to this obviously world class athlete, after reading "Gold" I cannot prevent myself from thinking about her emotional stability. In Zoe's case, many of the qualities that define so much of her psychopathology are in fact the same qualities that have enabled her to be the best in the world in her chosen sport.
As an avid cyclist, lover of music (I appreciate the "theme song" each of the 5 characters has), practicing physician (internal medicine subspecialist) and near obsessive lover of the Olympics and associated human interest stories, "Gold" grabbed my interest on several levels. Sadly, I have never been a "Star Wars person". Hopefully this did not deprive me and others who are not fluent in the language of Luke Starwalker and Darth Vader too great of an understanding of Sophie's life and death struggle laden world.
While the above paragraph reveals a major area in which I did not "bring enough to the table" and hence "fell short", I believe the latter needs to be said about the author in two instances. One involves the circumstances surrounding the 2003 birth of Sophie. Although this predates the explosion of social media, it seems to be implausible that this could have been kept secret in light of the dramatic events of April 2012. Between Facebook, twitter, money, preolympic home team publicity and an intrusive press bent on rampant speculation, the hidden identify of Sophie's biological mother seems less realistic and more a result of convenience for the sake of keeping the narrative as perfect as it was.
My second concern involves what I perceive to be an idealized resolution of Zoe's deep seated psychopathology at the end of the book. Undoubtedly, the insight gained in her visit to see Sophie in the hospital as she began her recovery from sepsis secondary to an infected PICC line would conceivably go a long way toward starting her own recovery. Clearly Zoe could now start to come to grips with the death of her brother 23 years ago and her powerful denial. But just as with recovering drug addicts, this is a process and not an overnight cure. And much like a recovering addict, a patient with BPD is never really "cured". As I found myself welling up with tears envisioning Zoe coaching and mentoring her young athlete (and biological daughter who by now must possess features which resemble Zoe more so than Kate) I paused knowing this was a psychological minefield in which any of a number of stressful or "flashback" like events in the future could trigger disastrous consequences. However, in my desire to remain hopeful that a BPD like Zoe (or those in my own life) could find future solace without disrupting the lives of others, I choose to be cautiously optimistic, if not in my heart completely realistic.
In the end I would recommend this book in the .001 seconds that separated the two extraordinary athletes. Additionally my enjoyment in watching the recent Olympic games (and NBC's shameless but elegant manipulation of the event timing for maximal drama and humanity) was only enhanced by Mr Cleeve's book. I especially watched the velodrome competition like never before comtemplating the competitors' individual journeys to the podium
I am again grateful to the author for producing this masterpiece.
Gary R Gilman MD
Guelph Mills PA
A great story, beautifully told! The characters where well drawn, very credible, sympathetic in their own way. I am already recommending it to others as a "must read" -- right away due to its timeliness.