“Gold” by Chris Cleave, The 2012 London Olympics. What do you want, a Medal ?

“Gold” by Chris Cleave  (2012) – 321 pages

 The 2012 London Olympics haven’t even started, but I’m already growing nostalgic about them.

 The frequent sightings of Kate / William / Harry / Cressida / Pippa.

 The pathetic 2012 Olympics sprint race-fixing scandal perpetrated by the LIBOR bankers.

 A rare public appearance by Queen Elizabeth herself at the opening ceremony.

 The agony of victory and the thrill of defeat for the Olympians.

 Elton John and a whole boatload of other aging musicians performing their ancient songs at the closing ceremony in honor of the Olympians.

 Adele also performing ‘Someone Like You’ and ‘Rolling in the Deep’ thus proving that 2011 wasn’t a complete loss. 

 Rupert and James Murdoch and Peter Cameron glorying and delighting in their ownership of the 2012 Londom Olympic games.  

 The heartbreaking but ultimately heartwarming life stories of the athletes themselves.

As you can see from the above, the 2012 London Olympics were really very exciting.

 “Gold”, the new novel by Chris Cleave, is the story of three young competitors in the Olympic bicycle racing event.  It is also the story of their coach as well the seven-year-old daughter of two of these young competitors, Sophie, who has leukemia.    Chris Cleave has been  quite shameless in the plots for his novels, but here he takes sentimentality to a whole new higher level of shamelessness.   Thus we have scenes of exciting bicycle races juxtaposed with hospital scenes of the cute little girl fighting for her life against the disease. 

It would be difficult to read “Gold” without once having your eyes tear up.  (I know mine did.).   Some people might call “Gold” mawkish and maudlin.  Another English novelist was also accused of these qualities in an 1869 article in The Spectator by R. H. Hutton..

 “Mr. Dickens has brought people to think that there is a sort of piety in being gushing and maudlin,” and his works are heavily imbued with the “most mawkish and unreal sentimentalism”,

 These remarks were in regard to Dickens’ novel “Our Mutual Friend”.  Perhaps in his mawkishness, Chris Cleave is Charles Dickens’ true heir.  Even though the setup of “Gold” seems calculated to play with our emotions, I didn’t feel unduly manipulated while reading the novel.  However one difference between Dickens and Cleave is that Dickens brought a lot of humor to his novels whereas there is little humor in “Gold”.  Chris Cleave can write humor – parts of ‘Incendiary’ are very funny; however here he accomplishes his main goal which is to create a fast-paced exciting heart-wrenching novel at the expense of  a level of irony and sophistication that would have slowed things down.

 I do believe that in the character of Zoe, Chris Cleave has captured the single-minded obsession and dedication (perhaps over-dedication) of some Olympic athletes to their sport.   Zoe is almost Tonya Harding revisited but fortunately not quite.    

 I expect that the exciting and emotional story in “Gold” will be quite popular with people attending or watching the 2012 London Olympics.  However, as for myself after reading two Chris Cleave novels in less than two months, I believe I’ll give him a rest for a few years.  I’m ready for something more complex, deep, cynical and ironic instead of this over-sentimental drivel meant to excite Olympic fans.    



6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by sharkell on July 22, 2012 at 6:00 AM

    Ouch! I have this book as my next book to read – it just came in from the library. I have enjoyed Cleave’s other two books – I do hope I enjoy this one as much as you didn’t. It’s a shame you have now put off reading The Other Hand (or Little Bee as it is published under this title in the US) as I was really looking forward to reading what you thought.



  2. Hi Sharkell,
    If you liked Cleave’s other two novels, you will probably like ‘Gold’. I am somewhat ambivalent about his novels. In the two I’ve read, he tells wild exciting stories that held my interest. Only later do I ask myself did I actually enjoy that cloying over-sentimental novel. It will be interesting to see if ‘Gold’ is selected for the Booker longlist that is announced on July 25. .



  3. Posted by gaskella on July 25, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    I’ve yet to read any of his books, but I’ve heard good things about Gold. Did you see the BBC documentary about Victoria Pendleton the other day – the team politics, psychology and her total dedication are something else, it was fascinating – and made me feel such a complete slacker!



    • Hi Gaskella,
      Chris Cleave is a writer we probably will all have to come to terms with sooner or later. I see that ‘Gold’ did not make the Booker longlist as I was expecting it might. His books are usually audacious, exciting, but decidedly low brow. I guess ‘Little Bee’ was a best seller.
      I didn’t see the Victoria Pendleton documentary, but from what you say she sounds a lot like Zoe in ‘Gold’.
      I still haven’t come to terms myself with Chris Cleave. His books are enjoyable, but I don’t like myself later for enjoying them.



  4. I seem to have been one of the few people on the planet who didn’t love (or even like) “Little Bee,” but it will take some inducement for me to read Cleave again. I think “cloying” and “sentimental” are appropriate descriptors.



    • Hi Jeanie,
      I wish I had thought of the word ‘cloying’, would have used that. ‘Little Bee’ has really gotten good press, but I’m not going to read it in the near future. After reading ‘Incendiary’ and ‘Gold’, I’ve had Cleave overload.



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