Wednesday, May 1, 2013

GOLD by Chris Cleave

Zoe and Kate are best friends and rival Olympic hopefuls in track cycling.  They are also complete opposites personality-wise.  Zoe's brother died in a childhood accident, and Zoe channels all of her pent-up anger and guilt into cycling.  She is fearless to the point of being dangerous, both to herself and to her fellow competitors.  She has a luxury apartment in Manchester, England, and her face adorns billboards throughout the city.  Kate, on the other hand, is married to Jack, another track cyclist, and they have a small child, Sophie, who has had a leukemia relapse.  Kate has had to sacrifice her dream for Olympic gold in Athens and Beijing to care for Sophie but hopes that 2012 in London will be her year.  A new Olympic rule, however, limits each country to just one participant, so that either Zoe or Kate will be left behind.  The novel explores the relationship between two women at the top of their game, as well as the conflict between family and career.  A revelation late in the novel is not as important as I think the author intended, as it just emphasizes that Kate is a nurturer and Zoe is all about winning at any cost.  At one point, Zoe observes that Kate is childlike, when, in fact, Zoe is the one who hasn't managed to grow up.  Some chapters give us the perspective of eight-year-old Sophie, who tries valiantly to disguise how tired and sick she feels, to keep her parents from worrying, and I found her battle more emotionally draining than that of anyone else in the novel.  Personally, I could have done with more cycling and less angst, but the novel does bring home how difficult the path is for many of our athletes who have responsibilities to their families, as well as their coaches, fans, and sponsors, and those responsibilities may be even more exhausting than their training.

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