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The Fifth Child (Vintage International) [Library Binding]

Doris May Lessing
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Kindle Edition £3.85  
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Library Binding, 10 July 2008 --  
Paperback £6.39  
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Book Description

10 July 2008 Vintage International
Doris Lessing's contemporary gothic horror story—centered on the birth of a baby who seems less than human—probes society's unwillingness to recognize its own brutality.Harriet and David Lovatt, parents of four children, have created an idyll of domestic bliss in defiance of the social trends of late 1960s England. While around them crime and unrest surge, the Lovatts are certain that their old-fashioned contentment can protect them from the world outside—until the birth of their fifth baby. Gruesomely goblin-like in appearance, insatiably hungry, abnormally strong and violent, Ben has nothing innocent or infant-like about him. As he grows older and more terrifying, Harriet finds she cannot love him, David cannot bring himself to touch him, and their four older children are afraid of him. Understanding that he will never be accepted anywhere, Harriet and David are torn between their instincts as parents and their shocked reaction to this fierce and unlovable child whose existence shatters their belief in a benign world.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Library Binding
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439513252
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439513255
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 12.1 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,056,876 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2007, is one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of recent decades. A Companion of Honour and a Companion of Literature, she has been awarded the David Cohen Memorial Prize for British Literature, Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize, the International Catalunya Award and the S. T. Dupont Golden PEN Award for a
Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature, as well as a host of other international awards.
Doris Lessing died on 17 November 2013.

Product Description


‘“The Fifth Child” has the intensity of a nightmare, a horror story poised somewhere between a naturalistic account of family life and an allegory that draws on science fiction. Read it and tremble.’ Clare Tomalin, Independent

‘“The Fifth Child” is a book to send shivers down your spine, but one which it is impossible to put down until it is finished. Doris Lessing’s power to captivate and convince is evident from the first, and the effect of the odd, alien child on the family is conveyed with quiet understatement which adds to the mounting sense of horror.’ Sunday Times

‘A disturbing vision, “The Fifth Child” offers a faithful if chilling reflection of the world we live in.’ Sunday Telegraph

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

’Listening to the laughter, the sounds of children playing, Harriet and David would reach for each other’s hand, and smile, and breathe happiness.’

Four children, a beautiful old house, the love of relatives and friends, Harriet and David Lovatt’s life is a glorious hymn to domestic bliss and old-fashioned family values. But when their fifth child is born, a sickly and implacable shadow is cast over this tender idyll. Large and ugly, violent and uncontrollable, the infant Ben, ‘full of cold dislike,’ tears at Harriet’s breast. Struggling to care for her new-born child, faced with a darkness and a strange defiance she has never known before, Harriet is deeply afraid of what, exactly, she has brought into the world…

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping and Unsettling Read 16 Nov 2013
Format:Library Binding
Doris Lessing's 'The Fifth Child' may be a slim novel, but it is one that makes a real impact and is a compelling read from beginning to end. Harriet and David Lovatt have a seemingly idyllic life; they have four lovely children and plan to have several more; they have a beautiful, rambling family house complete with a huge kitchen where family and friends congregate; they have parents who are willing to support them with financial and practical help, and everything is going just the way they planned - that is until Harriet falls pregnant with their fifth child. This pregnancy is different from Harriet's previous pregnancies; the baby is so active that Harriet feels it is trying to fight its way out of her body, and this it does, one month prematurely, weighing eleven pounds and looking "like a troll or a goblin." They name the baby Ben and hope he will settle down and become more like their other four children - but Ben does not settle down at all, in fact he becomes a violent and virtually uncontrollable child who terrorises the whole family - adults, children and animals alike. Convinced that she has given birth to a throwback from the past, Harriet becomes deeply afraid of the creature that she has brought into the world and into the midst of her previously happy family.

As expected from a writer of Doris Lessing's calibre, this a well-written and thought-provoking read, but it's also very chilling and unsettling too.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I think it's gone over a lot of people's heads 13 July 2011
I'm really surprised at many of the other reviews I've read here, wondering what caused Ben to be the 'monster' he is, etc. and asking what the point is.

The whole time I read this book, I was thinking:

1) I related to some of Harriet's frustrations and unfairness toward the baby consuming all her energy while in her stomach - I thought, this doesn't have to be a monster; it could easily be any pregnancy at all, especially if it's her fifth one in six years!

2) Ben sounded very autistic. I have studied the subject quite a lot, I have been diagnosed with autism myself, and I know people with deeply autistic children in the family who have a habit of lashing out violently, not understanding human emotions, wo mimic others' ways of behaving in order to try to be what everyone else expects them to be, and who can't respond with love, etc. I spent this whole book thinking it was such a classic portrayal of this state of mind, and feeling absolutely horrified at the way people seem to have treated such children back at the time this book was written (the hospital scene).

3) The back of the book is misleading - I kept expecting this book to turn out to be 'The Omen' or 'Rosemary's Baby', but it isn't. It plays off that sort of story from the '70s and twists it into something else - the view society has of such children as 'monsters' when in fact all they need is love, just like anyone else. The ending to the book was heartbreaking in its understatedness.

I think this is such an important book...but only if you understand what she's actually saying. It is a horror novel, but the horror is really over our lack of understanding of children who don't fit our idea of what children 'should' be.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A traumatic but worthwhile read 14 May 2004
By A Customer
I read this book because my 13 year old son was reading it at school and was finding it hard to relate to. I could not put it down. The three main themes of the book (the dangers of complacency, how society responds to those who do not or cannot conform, and the strength of a mother's love) are all hugely important. It made me appreciate my own children more than ever, but also forced me to realise that it could have been so different. I hope I emerged a more tolerant and understanding person; we all have hopes and dreams, but some of us end up lucky and some do not.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing novel 9 Feb 2006
Harriet and David met at an office end-of-the-year party. David Lovatt was a successful architect and they decided to marry the following spring. Soon they found a large Victorian house within commuting distance of London.
Their first son Luke was born in 1966. Then followed Helen, Jane and Paul in 1973.
Then Harriet was pregnant for the fifth time. But it was a difficult pregnancy, the foetus kicking and punching, but eventually their fifth child, Ben, was born. At four months, he already looked like an "angry, hostile little troll".
Later on, he became so aggressive and repulsive that Harriet and David had to protect themselves and other members of their family from his kicks and bites. Finally David decided to take him to an "institution". But soon Harriet could not tolerate the situation and on her own accord drove to the North of England to bring Ben back home. What she found there constitutes the most harrowing scene of the novel and is no doubt Mrs Lessing's sharp critique of the way such institutions used to treat mentally retarded children. Then follows Harriet's desperate attempts to re-educate Ben for social life, to the disgust of the other members of the family.
A moving and very disturbing novel in which Mrs Lessing brilliantly shows that a mother can love and devote herself to a child even if it is no more than a monster or an alien.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 26 days ago by LILLY GRAHAM
5.0 out of 5 stars I just started reading Doris Lessing after I read her ...
I just started reading Doris Lessing after I read her obituary and realised I had never read her books before. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Livia
1.0 out of 5 stars I did not really enjoy this book
A story of an idyllic family life which is thrown into chaos by the birth of a fifth child. I did not really enjoy this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mrs. Lyn Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars Really enjoyed this. In fact I may get the sequel ...
Really enjoyed this. In fact I may get the sequel to see what happened next. It was written a while ago before autism was a more 'common' event. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mrs. P. Killingsworth
4.0 out of 5 stars Short and not at all sweet
No one ever accused Lessing of being an optimist or believing the best of humanity and this late novel is not for anyone feeling a bit low in spirits. Read more
Published 5 months ago by S. B. Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars Social Stigma.
Harriet and David Lovatt meet and fall in love during the sexual revolution that took place in the 1960s but far from subscribing to the sexual mores of their generation they are... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Pigwin
2.0 out of 5 stars Book
I was very surprised and disappointed to find several pages contained written comments by the previous owner which I found very off putting when reading.
Published 6 months ago by Stephanie Brown
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed pleasure
I was surprised by the uneven quality of the writing and the thinness of the plot. Having said that, I read the book in a sitting, so the themes were gripping enough, though the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by dream reader
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but not perfect
With relatively few words this author seems able to create images, emotions and sensations beyond expectations. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Janie U
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Really enjoyed this book about a family who strive for their idyll and what happens when the fifth child doesn't fit the plan. Read more
Published 9 months ago by shopper
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