Reading books about bad things happening to people makes me uncomfortable.
When I say bad things, I generally mean illness. I’ve mentioned more than once that I read a lot of crime fiction and by their very definition, they are full of bad things happening to people. But they are of the dead bodies/sexual assault variety and for some reason, that doesn’t bother me. That’s probably subject matter for a whole different kind of post…
But when you make me read books about illness, and cancer in particular, I almost can’t handle it.
The first book we ever read in our book club was So Much For That by Lionel Shriver, which is about a man and what happens to his dreams (and his savings) when his wife gets a really nasty form of cancer, mesothelioma. The book was mainly a commentary on the American healthcare system (or lack thereof) but it was also very graphic. If you’ve ever read any Lionel Shriver books you will know that she’s no shrinking violet – she tells it like it is. She has a talent for making you uncomfortable but she always has a reason for doing it.
I think the reason I hate reading about illness is that it scares the sh*t out of me in real life and that by reading about it, I’m tempting fate. It’s the same with tv – if Breaking Bad was mostly about cancer and less about cooking meth, I wouldn’t be able to watch.
I’m totally superstitious in some ways!
Basically what I’m trying to tell you is that I do my best to stay away from books about illness.
Except that Gold by Chris Cleave has been on my TBR list for so long, I kind of forgot what it was about and just grabbed it when I saw it at the library.
Gold is the story of Kate and Zoe, British cyclists and best friends (in the most uneasy sense of that term), aiming for gold (duh) at the London 2012 Olympics. They have been rivals for more than a decade, racing and trying to get the best of each other while falling into an uneasy and insanely complicated friendship.
So where’s the illness? Well in between the training and the protein powers and the low resting heart rates there is Kate’s daughter Sophie. Eight, obsessed with Star Wars and battling leukaemia. Kate and Zoe are battling their bodies to reach that pinnacle of endurance, the Olympics, while Sophie battles her body for her life.
And it’s heartbreaking because this isn’t a terribly unique story is it? But there’s something so heightened about this fight. Each character tells his or her own story (in addition to Zoe, Kate and Sophie we meet the girls’ coach Tom and Kate’s husband, Jack) and through their stories we start to understand why each is the way they are. Why Zoe has to win at any cost. Why 2012 is Kate’s last chance for gold. Why Sophie’s survival matters to all of them.
At this point, I haven’t finished reading the book. I’m kind of afraid to. So Much For That didn’t have a happy ending – well not in the traditional sense anyway. I will finish reading it, probably tonight. But right now I’m happy to leave them in limbo, when Kate is still racing for gold and Sophie is still hanging on.
Here’s hoping for a happy ending this time.