'Five Miles from Outer Hope' by Nicola Barker

This is one of those books that’s been sitting on my bookcase for years. The title intrigued me. I put it on the shelf and that was where it stayed, apart from a few fleeting moments when I took it down, looked at it and put it back again.

In the end, it took me two days to read it. Less, if you consider the second day was spent mostly not reading, only picking it up again in the evening. It’s narrated by Medve, a girl with a dysfunctional family and an attitude problem, and she talks direct to the reader, telling the story of what happened in 1981 when she was 16, but in the present tense. Her dad’s nicknamed Big (because he’s tiny) and they refer to their absentee mother as Mo. The story, what there is of it (trust me, this is not a criticism), takes place on a part-island off the coast of Cornwall, where Big is renovating a hotel for sale. During this time, the family - the ones who haven’t gone off to ‘the only kibbutz not in Israel’, America to develop an anal probe for the prison service or who haven’t hooked up with a dodgy bloke and stayed behind - are living in the hotel.

Medve has a sister Patch, who’s 12, a little brother Feely (I love this name!), who’s 4, an older brother Barge and an older sister Poodle (real name Christabel), the latter of whom, we are informed, came back to join the family having had an operation and now has ‘oxygen-tank tits’.

A stranger comes to stay, a 19-year-old South African called La Roux, and most of the plot revolves around him and Medve trying to get one over on each other, ably helped by Patch.

This book is funny. I mean, really, don’t-read-it-on-the-train-if-you’re-easily-embarrassed kind of funny. It’s also clever, beautifully written and compelling, even if you don’t particularly like Medve, who is your typical grumpy, smart-arse teenager.

Nicola Barker has my vote, both as a writer and as a reader. I absolutely loved this book.

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