Tuesday, February 28, 2012

{read: Olympics vs. family} Gold by Chris Cleave

I loved the fresh writing and plotting in Little Bee and Incendiary, so I had high expectations for Chris Cleave's third book, Gold, in which he tells the story of three British Olympic cyclists and how their lives intertwine. Yet while I enjoyed the story, it didn't compare to Cleave's earlier two books. This one, which explores the themes of how we define success for ourselves, how society defines success, the cost and joy of parenthood, and the ties of friendship, had somewhat predictable plotting. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but at times it almost felt like I was reading Jodi Picoult rather than Chris Cleave.

So what was the difference between his first two novels and this one? I think it comes down to two things. First, Little Bee and Incendiary made good use of first person narration, and Gold is told entirely in the third person. While this can work well in many cases, it seemed to keep me at more of a distance. Second, in his first two books Cleave took big, hairy problems like terrorist bombings, illegal immigration, and the problems faced by third-world African nations and made them personal. He showed you how they translate into the everyday lives of everyday people. While Gold deals with themes that interest me, I missed that connection to a more global problem and seeing its intricacies both distilled and concentrated into the characters' lives.

The cover, however, is awesome. It's an optical illusion that shows either two women's faces (similar to profile on the Little Bee cover)  or a gold cup depending how you look at it.

(This is a review of an advance copy. The book will be published in the U.S. by Simon and Schuster in July 2012.)

Gold by Chris Cleave (Simon and Schuster, 2012)
My rating:  4 stars

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