Five Miles From Outer Hope by Nicola Barker

A review of the coming-of-age literary novel Five Miles From Outer Hope by Nicola Barker.

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Five Miles From Outer Hope is about a weird family, living (for now) in a crumbling hotel on a remote island. Big is tiny and full of indigestion, Patch is smart and strange, Feely is obsessed with the story of a dead deer, and Medve, our narrator, is enormously tall and rude and irreverent. Into their lives comes La Roux, an unhygienic but passionate deserter from the South African army. He and Medve start a strange flirtatious friendship, maybe learning more about themselves and their families along the way, maybe just wasting time while they wait for La Roux to be caught by the authorities.

Medve’s voice is like Marmite; she’s so brash and blunt and articulate about everything, I imagine it will definitely divide readers. I liked it; I didn’t like everything about the book, but I did like her voice—it was funny and smart, and although it took a little while to fully get into her style, it was worth it, and I felt like I was in safe hands.

My problem, I guess, is La Roux.

He was interesting, I’ll give him that, and he makes a very valid point about chickens and legs that definitely resonated with me. But during the course of his ‘flirtation’ with Medve he goes on about female genitalia—Medve’s in particular—in a way I found very repellent, and takes every opportunity to expose himself to her. Medve holds her own, and is no shrinking violet; La Roux is shown to be a grotesque and strange figure, but even so he’s ultimately a tragic figure who manages to forge emotional bonds with everyone, and there’s no judgement for his actions—either in the plot, character dialogue, or narrative intent.

It’s a short strange story, and I would recommend it for Medve, and the humour, and the oddly tragic ending.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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