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Five Miles from Outer Hope by Nicola Barker

Five Miles from Outer Hope (edition 2001)

by Nicola Barker

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894135,585 (3.41)5
Title:Five Miles from Outer Hope
Authors:Nicola Barker
Info:Faber and Faber (2001), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 191 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction. English.

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Five Miles from Outer Hope by Nicola Barker

1981 (1) 2000s (1) 2008 (2) 2011 (2) 21st century (1) adolescence (3) angst (1) bildungsroman (1) coming of age (2) contemporary (2) England (3) English literature (2) ex-ch box (1) family (3) fiction (16) first love (1) funny (1) lounge (1) love (2) mine (1) novel (4) novella (1) read (2) sex (1) swapped (1) teenage (1) to-read (1) UK (1) unread (3) used (1)



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[3.5] I’ve started to associate Nicola Barker’s books with summer. It’s just that’s when I’ve read all of them so far, but there’s good reason with this one: it’s set in June 1981. (I didn’t consciously pick it up for that reason, but in that way that recently-read books often unexpectedly connect with each other, the last one I finished [Dorian by Will Self] also opened in 1981 and mentioned ‘Tainted Love’ early on.) Five Miles from Outer Hope should be set in late July or August though as there's no mention of school.

It was a nice breather to read something which had no deafening personal resonance or overwhelming beauty, yet which I nevertheless quite liked, and which doesn’t raise any Important Issues I feel the need to pontificate about. "Funny, sordid and silly", says MJ's review, and that's as good a description as any.

Six foot three, sixteen year-old Medve, her family and their dodgy lodger are typically bizarre early Nicola Barker characters. No sense of oxymoron in saying “typically bizarre”: it’s been about a year since I read any Barker, making the contrast with all the other characters in all the other books obvious. Would I rather be reading this than some more sedate, realist domestic saga with lots of earnest cookery scenes and predictable litfic accounts of what wife and husband think of one another? Absofuckinglutely.

Medve turns out to have the temperament of a mythological trickster goddess or a character in one of Angela Carter's debowdlerised fairytales. And her big weird family living in a run-down hotel are uglier, grubbier, and not as posh or clever as the Tenenbaums or the Bagthorpes or the people in I Capture the Castle, whatever they were called. They're more real and more surreal.

The voice here is one which developed into the third-person style in many of Barker’s more recent books, a clause-packed extravaganza more hyper than her first short stories. Medve’s narrative is forever trying to breathlessly pre-empt a reader’s imagined reaction to the last thing she said. It's typically Barker but its register is not so startling here; it's easier to place, in this slightly modified form, as first-person teenager: very strong personality and very much herself yet kind of defensive at times; smart-alec, exuberant, eccentric but not intellectual, definitely not girly but not a conventional tomboy. It’s a voice utterly recognisable from the internet (although this was first published in 2000).

Agreed with MJ again: the final chapter is unnecessary and jarring - though a handful of the more flippant details about the characters' futures were fun. ( )
  antonomasia | Jun 22, 2014 |
Ok this novel really deserves a 3 1/2. I toyed with giving it four stars but it wasn't quite there. Barker's writing style is still fantastic but the story isn't as bizarre and enchanting as Darkmans. In a way, this is more like a weird feminine John Irving-esque sort of novel where the British family of misfits are all named after Thurber dogs and seem like the kind of people who will always struggle to find their place in this world. While the mother goes galavanting across American prisons marketing her anal probe, the rest of the family in England houses a South African who doesn't want to serve in the military. This is set in the 80s and the plot really centers around this farcical series of tricks played upon the guest and the main character. It's fun but it doesn't leave your head spinning with quite the same vigor as I'd like.

( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
It’s a while since I read a Nicola Barker novel and when I noticed she’s just published a new one (‘The Yips’) I found I hadn’t read ‘Five Miles from Outer Hope’, written now some twelve years ago and well before ‘Darkmans’, still a favourite of mine.

This novel seems to be much lighter in tone for the most part, stacked with adjectives to give a wild exuberance to it. Opening the book at random, for example, I find the narrator, Medve, up early in the morning about to go fishing – ‘I have an emergency banana stuffed into my woolly pocket, for energy. And frankly, I’m most miserably in need of it – feeling as I do, at that precise moment, about as well worn and washed out as a busy whore’s best knickers – but I hold off peeling and devouring it (time is of the essence) and plod bravely onwards, my stomach growling, all the while, like a territorial Alsatian’.

I think this gives some of the tone of the book with the sentences blossoming outwards, helping to convey the animation of this sixteen year old narrator. As usual with Nicola Barker, you never quite know where’s she’s heading and it’s a matter of enjoying the turns of the novel and the wording as well as thinking about what she is saying. ‘Five miles from outer hope’ sounds rather pessimistic an image but I think the novel remains buoyant. ( )
  evening | Jul 5, 2012 |
All you need to know about this book can probably be summed up in the first sentence: "It was during those boiled-dry, bile-ridden, shit-ripped, god-forsaken early-bird years of the nineteen eighties". If that makes you smile, you'll probably enjoy the rest of it. If it makes you roll your eyes, then you might as well stop reading there.

Medve, the narrator of this book, is a smart but self-conscious sixteen-year-old with a gothically weird family. The action, such as it is, takes place in June 1981, as Medve attempts to look after her disintegrating family (although she's a bit too self-centred to notice what's really going on) and flirts and fights with a "skinny, self-centred, stupid, impolitic m------f------r" of a deserter from the South African army.

But the story is not really the point - it's Medve's voice that the book focuses on. Barker hits the tone perfectly - just the right mixture of pretentiousness and hostility. I spent a little while wondering what the book was actually about, but then I stopped worrying and decided to enjoy the ride. ( )
1 vote wandering_star | May 3, 2008 |
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Summer, 1981. Medve, sixteen years old and six foot three in her crocheted stockings, is marooned in a semi-derelict hotel on a tiny island off the coast of Devon. There's nothing to do but paint novelty Thatcher mugs, dream of literary murderer Jack Henry Abbott, and despair of her gothically unprepossessing family - including Mo, her anal-probe-inventing mother; Poodle, her shamefully flat-chested sister; and four-year-old Feely, who wants to grow up to be a bulimic (he thinks it's a veterinarian who specialises in livestock). Until one day a ginger stranger arrives, stinking of antiseptic...--Back cover.… (more)

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