After reading (and loving) Chris Cleave’s Little Bee a few months ago, I was curious about his newest novel, Gold. Could it possibly be as well constructed and mesmerizing as Little Bee? Gold is the story of three Olympic level speed cyclists: Kate, Zoe, and Jack; all friends, all training for the 2012 London Olympics. While Zoe is driven by her own demons to succeed, Kate and Jack are preoccupied with their daughter Sophie, who is gravely ill with leukemia. In Gold, as in Little Bee, Cleave starts in the middle of the story, just a few months before the London games, then works both forwards and backwards to get to the end. It’s a brilliant narrative strategy. In a series of well-timed flashbacks, Cleave reveals the back story that binds these four characters together. The past and present come together for the reader at the trials for the British women’s Olympic team. It is not until we come into the homestretch that we truly understand what is at stake for both women, as well as Jack as Sophie.
So, was Gold as well constructed and mesmerizing as Little Bee? Yes and no. It is a well-designed and well executed narrative, no doubt . I was mesmerized by the tension in the story, and the pace of the reveals. As in Little Bee, Cleave throws in a few modern storytelling methods, including bouncing between five different points of view, and placing some of the action in ‘a galaxy far, far away’, that show off his dexterity as a writer. His absolute mastery of nonlinear narrative is in high gear in this novel as well. He orchestrates each scene for maximum tension; there were several places where I had to put the book down and walk away. For me, that’s the ultimate mark of good storytelling.
As well written as Gold is, it is also extremely plot driven; at times it reads a bit like a literary soap opera. I found the characters to be on the very edge of believable. Perhaps because their true motivations are not revealed until near the end of the book, I found some of their actions (and interactions) hard to swallow. While all the plot elements finally fell into place in the last few chapters, my aloofness towards the characters never really jelled into a comfortable acceptance. One small part of me just never fully bought into the cause and effect relationship that the resolution of the conflict relies on.
That said, Gold is still a book worth reading. It’s a book that is hard to put down, one that makes you thirstier the more you drink. It is several clicks above most popular fiction on the shelf right now, and will sticks with you long after the last page.