My family watched a lot of the Olympics this summer. At 9 and 5, the boys were old enough to really appreciate the athleticism, competitiveness and pride that embody this competition. Being sports lovers they watched it all – volleyball, swimming, water polo, even equestrian events resulted in them cheering and hollering. While we watched some BMX, the new cycling event, we didn’t watch any of the indoor cycling events, and those are the focus of Chris Cleave’s new novel, Gold. After reading the book I did some Googling about indoor cycling and it turns out that it’s huge in Great Britain and Australia, but not so much in the U.S., which is probably why there wasn’t much television coverage. Anyway, on to the book.
At age 19, Zoe and Kate met at an open call for cyclists, held by an Australian former Olympian who lost gold by one-tenth of a second. He can tell immediately that they each have something special that comes from very different places. Zoe is driven by the need to win, haunted by demons and guilt surrounding an accident when she was young. She arrives to the track early, trains relentlessly and lives to ride. Kate doesn’t have Zoe’s drive, but she has pure, natural talent. She allows Zoe’s mind-games to undermine her concentration and puts her family ahead of her cycling, which may lead to her downfall. In between the two is Jack, also a cyclist who showed up at the open call, and Kate and Jack’s 8 year old daughter, Sophie, a rabid Star Wars fan who is struggling with a recurrence of leukemia.
Gold alternates between the present — Kate and Zoe’s training for the London Olympics, Sophie’s struggle with her disease and her desire to keep her parents from worrying, and the past — how the women met and went from rivals to friends, how all three athletes entered the world of cycling. It’s also told from the point of view of all of the main characters, and while I would have liked to have more of Jack’s viewpoint, as I felt he was the least developed character, both Kate and Zoe are well developed and show growth throughout the novel as they learn what’s really important in their lives.
Cleave is a talented storyteller, expertly developing the characters without losing nuances of the plot. Sophie’s Star Wars obsession adds an amusing spark to the story and Kate and Jack’s willingness to play along with her as she uses the force on them adds to their realism. The life of an Olympic-level cyclist is well described without getting overly detailed and enticed me to learn more about cycling.
Notes on the audiobook: Narrator Emelia Fox takes on Scottish and Australian accents in addition to her native British English and does a great job with them all, at least to my untrained ear. This is third book I’ve listened to that she’s read and I’ve come to really enjoy her work.
Nancy enjoys learning about new sports and never knew there was so much to cycling. She writes about her boys, books and life in Colorado at Life With My Boys and Books.