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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Ben, in the World by Doris Lessing 
1st-Sep-2006 05:20 pm
You know, I can't help wondering if Ben might not be read as an extended metaphor for the male homosexual. Horrific under the specter of AIDS in the late 80's, more pitiable, evoking the possibility of empathy, by the end of the 20th century.

*ahem* Sorry. Way out in left field about now.

Lessing, Doris. Ben, in the World. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
Summary: Sequel to The Fifth Child. The not-quite-human Ben in the world finds both safety and exploitation with an old woman, a prostitute and her pimp, a film director and his mistress, a cohort of unethical scientists, among others. In the end, unable to locate any of his own kind, except in pictures on a mountain cave wall, he commits suicide, hurdling to his death.
Comments: Much less portentious and frightening than its prequel, whose only views of Ben are through the eyes of people who are terrified of him, this story, told from the perspective of an omniscent narrator (who has thing for digressions), reveals Ben as essentially good-hearted but vulnerable and lonely, trying to restrain urges alien to the rest of the populace. For example, he avoids his mother when he sees the hated Paul with her so that he does not descend into an involuntary murderous rage, and, though any sex act he performs must be "animalistic," he does not indiscriminately rape women that attract him. (So much for what you were thinking, eh Mom?) Indeed, Lessing no longer writes about the horrors of the inhuman but rather the tragedies. Whether that's more or less to write home about is debatable and maybe it's just a sign of the changing times, but Lessing's instinct for her characters and the many worlds they inhabit--from England to France to Brazil--are impeccable.
Notes: hardcover, 1st edition
Rating: 7/10 - Quite solid...but, as sequels often are, not quite as strong as the original.
1st-Sep-2006 11:37 pm (UTC)
So you’ve read so many gay novels that you’re reading gay themes into everything now? ^_~

Although, definitely sounds like the symbolism is there ^^
2nd-Sep-2006 01:08 pm (UTC)
Though it's more likely to be about racism. The author's originally from South Africa, if I'm not mistaken.
2nd-Sep-2006 01:24 pm (UTC)
That makes sense too ^^
2nd-Sep-2006 01:27 pm (UTC)
I just don't know enough about South Africa to know if attitudes towards blacks changed there between 1988 and 2000. I see nothing parallel in Europe or the US, race-wise, and Lessing was living in the UK when the wrote the two books, so... *shrugs*
2nd-Sep-2006 01:59 pm (UTC)
My poorly educated guess here would be that attitudes changed not very much, just because attitudes towards race change much slower than the law changes.. Attitudes really had to change just enough to flip the laws, and that could really be just a tiny bit ^^;;

I had a friend who spent a year in South Africa in high school, when he came back he said he didn't think there was *really* much of a difference in treatment of blacks in South Africa vs. the US, just that in South Africa it was by an overt legal framework ^^;
2nd-Sep-2006 02:03 pm (UTC)
I would think that the law changes slower than attitudes these days...but I could be wrong about that. :P

Though the man-ape is a tried-and-true racist metaphor, I think the perhaps subconscious change in attitude toward Ben in the two novels fits stereotypes of gay men better--and I've heard that Lessing is or was a bit homophobic in one of her other novels, for what that's worth.
2nd-Sep-2006 02:09 pm (UTC)
Well the government certainly changes slower than attitudes these days, but that's life in a dictatorship >_<

I'll just have to go on your review, because otherwise I've never even heard of Lessing ^_^;;
2nd-Sep-2006 08:09 am (UTC)
From yuor description of the cast, it might as well be a gay novel^_^
2nd-Sep-2006 01:08 pm (UTC)
*laughs* You really think so? How so? ^_^;
2nd-Sep-2006 03:05 pm (UTC)
The same cast of characters are found in a lot of gay novels. The older/elderly woman who serves as a substitute mother figure of sorts, the prostitute who seems essential in a lot of gay novels as a good intro to sex for the protagonist, the requisite 'artist' figure, etc.

No wonder you thought it had gay subtext. Even Ben being a 'monster' could be a metaphor for being homosexual.
2nd-Sep-2006 03:09 pm (UTC)
*grins* The whore with the heart of gold is a stereotype in the most heterosexual of genres--the Western. (Forget Annie Proulx.)

Even Ben being a 'monster' could be a metaphor for being homosexual.

But yeah. Definitely. Or any other sort of outsider. The "gay man" metaphor struck me because of the radical changes in apparent attitude of Lessing herself toward Ben's character.

2nd-Sep-2006 03:14 pm (UTC)
There's a whore in Proulx's stories?^_^

But I don't get why there are so many prostitutes in gay novels. Unless it's to a) convince the protagonist that sex is okay and nothing to be ashamed of and b) het sex isn't what they're looking for. *dies laughing*

Well, some authors start to like their characters after a while.
2nd-Sep-2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
That was in reference to the Western being heterosexual. ^_~

But I don't get why there are so many prostitutes in gay novels.

I didn't think that there were so many prostitutes in gay novels...never noticed that trend. *curious* What specifically are you thinking of?

As for gay men and women, you either find attitudes of alliance or misogyny, for varied reasons, of course. :P
2nd-Sep-2006 03:20 pm (UTC)
Ah, okay^_^ Though ther irony is that the Western makes for great slash potential XD Dangerous frontier land, not many women, tough living, etc.

Nothing specifically. I just read reviews of gay novels and am surprized by how similar the cast/stereotypes are in each novel.
1st-Oct-2006 03:26 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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