Gold, by Chris Cleave, is the story of elite cyclists, Zoe and Kate, whose lives become entangled (on and off the track), in their race for Olympic gold.
At first glance, Gold is a sports story. There’s plenty of cycling action and Cleave does a good job of setting the scene in the velodrome and building tension during race scenes. The action is padded out with the themes of ambition, the price of success, and the sacrifices people are prepared to make for what they love.
“Being chased down by another human being is a very intimate thing. She’d never been caught before.”
But Gold is not a sports story at all – cycling is merely the carrier for a story about two women, described from the outset as friends. And that’s where the wheels fell off for me (boom-tish).
Zoe and Kate are very different – Zoe is determined, angry and will win at any cost.
“Zoe, it’s like she’s pursued. I mean she’s more scared of losing than she’s glad about winning.”
Kate is the ‘good sport’, generous and friendly. An initial squabble over a guy (another cyclist, Jack, who Kate ends up marrying), the birth of a baby, two Olympic games, and a few cycling accidents shape the ‘friendship’. Cleave throws in a few plot twists but they did little to distract from the fundamental flaw – nothing about the friendship between Zoe and Kate convinced me. And I couldn’t even stretch it to ‘frenemies’.
“It was always an intricate friendship to navigate, this bittersweet affection of rivals…”
Without spoilers, Zoe does things that I would rate as unforgivable and yet Kate, who is supposedly someone geared toward Olympic gold and therefore no pushover, forgives every betrayal. Ridiculous.
2/5 The plot hangs on friendship and the friendship simply didn’t convince me.
Kate’s post-race treat is a ploughman’s lunch (which is just another name for a platter of tasty bits, isn’t it?).