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I’LL be upfront — I didn’t much like this book. I wouldn’t normally start a review like that, but the publishers’ blurb is so irritatingly coy, I thought I should counteract it. “Usually, this is where we’d tell you what this book is about. But with Chris Cleave, it’s a bit different,” they say. They go on to tell you it will make you glad to be alive and other such stuff.
But if that’s not enough for you, it’s actually about three Olympic cyclists, one coach and a seriously ill child. The main characters are Zoe and Kate, rivals since the age of 19, and now coming up to the London Olympics and their last chance at glory at the age of 32.
Not only have they been rivals on the track, but they have also, at times, been rivals for the love of the third Olympic cyclist, Jack.
At the time of the action, Kate has won that battle, maybe as a reward for being quite impossibly nice. It’s the only word for her, but, of course, niceness doesn’t make for champions.
Add the problems of mothering a child with leukaemia, and you can see that her quest for gold is likely to be compromised.
Zoe is the most interesting character in the book. She is unbalanced, dangerous and damaged, and could have turned things round for Cleave, if he had let her. But everyone else is so terminally nice and decent that any dramatic tension quickly leaks away, and the reader ends up feeling manipulated. In the immortal words of Britain’s old Sunday Express: “Pass the sick bag, Alice”.
It’s a pity, because Cleave’s The Other Hand was a much more effective and affective piece of popular fiction. And in an Olympic year, when people became hooked on the strange happenings in the Velodrome, the subject matter would have had potential. But it’s a bit of a flat tyre, I’m afraid.