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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing 
6th-Aug-2006 11:59 pm
My first encounter with the novels of Doris Lessing. I must read more, starting with the sequel, Ben, in the World, to the title below.

Lessing, Doris. The Fifth Child. 1988. New York: Vintage International, 1989.
Summary: Harriet and David dream of giving birth to as many children as possible, but when their fifth child appears to be some savage throwback, the family is thrown into chaos and estrangement, and Harriet is forced to choose between the happiness of her family and the life of Ben, her fifth child.
Comments: Though this slim novel started off painfully slow and is premised upon the decidedly false assumption that there are Europeans out there with Neanderthal in their DNA, this combination between Rosemary's Baby and The Good Son is a frightening and unforgettable gothic tale. Though Ben is ruthless and violent and kills pets (as well as making attempts on the sibling that hates him most), his family, which presumably has the moral conscience to know better, tries to kill him by sending him to an institution expressly for the purpose of slowly murdering unwanted children. Also, it's immensely depressing the way in which Harriet becomes the scapegoat; David insists that Ben is HER child, not HIS--as if this is an immaculate conception. At least she's not willing to deny the distilled savage and cruel aspects of human nature. No one else is. Interestingly, the implication is that Ben will do quite well as a disaffected punk/gangster youth...I guess Lessing thinks England is returning to savagery.
Notes: trade paperback, 4th printing
Rating: 8/10 - Oodles of creepy fun with a few interesting ideas for rumination. What more could you ask for?
7th-Aug-2006 01:54 pm (UTC)
A friend of mine and I bought this book (at the same time) about a million years ago. She read it immediately and loved it, despite warning me that it was seriously weird and disturbing. I look at it on the shelf every now and again but never find the nerve to read it. I'm just never in the proper mood to be freaked out, upset or whatever, so I always pass up that (and JOHN DOLLAR) for other books. Recently, I did manage to re-visit A FAMILY FAILURE by Renate Rasp (the singularly most disturbing book EVER) so maybe I'm ready for THE FIFTH CHILD.

Great review. Who knows, maybe I'll pull it off the shelf.
7th-Aug-2006 04:37 pm (UTC)
It's a quick read, so even if you end up regretting it, it won't be too much time wasted. ^_^
7th-Aug-2006 02:24 pm (UTC)
You should read her book The Golden Notebook. I think it's probably her greatest work, although unfortunately you have to be able to tolerate Lessing's distinct homophobia to appreciate it for an attempted feminist masterpiece of its particular era.
1st-Sep-2006 05:25 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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