Nicola Barker's teen queen heroine, Medve, has no truck with the niceties of polite expression. Medve is six foot three and living with her family in a crumbling art deco hotel on a small island, off the coast of England. She is "single-minded, oestrogen-fuelled and cunning", with a foul mouth and scattershot approach to story telling. Medve means bear in Hungarian and she gives the novel all the bite, ferocity and feral charm of her namesake.
Five Miles From Outer Hope is a compact book but, as usual, Nicola Barker manages to compress an awful lot in under 200 pages. Her work is darkly comic--weird, furtive and slightly rude. Her characters are unlikely, sometimes unlikeable, but they pack a huge punch. Medve is a roiling mass of hormones, her sister, Christobel, has swapped her "lovely breasts ... tiny chocolate-button-tipped conches, soft as a moth's wing, pale as a priest's kiss" for "tits like torpedoes"; brother Feely, age four, is obsessed by the melancholy death of Shiro Chan, Queen of the Deer of Nara, and plump pre-pubescent Patch, the youngest girl, is knowledgeable and secretive. Into this family affair comes 19-year-old La Roux, a deserter from the South African army (The Sauce) with ginger hair, "very bad skin and even worse instincts". Medve and La Roux embark on a barbed flirtation, full of simmering sexuality and bad intentions, which ends in the very destructive "Operation Vagina" involving crochet knickers and a "five inch, red-coloured, jelly-textured, thirty-seven-scraggy-legged centipede." Things are never the same again.
Nicola Barker's superb sixth book is sly and subversive --Eithne Farry