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The Fifth Child (Vintage International) Library Binding – 10 Jul 2008

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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 (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,832,945 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

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Susie B TOP 100 REVIEWER on 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 By Vrinda Pendred on 13 July 2011
Format: Paperback
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 By A Customer on 14 May 2004
Format: Paperback
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pigwin on 17 April 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 conservative and espouse traditional family values. Their dream is to buy a large house in the countryside and have lots of children. They get married and promptly set about achieving their goal purchasing the large country house courtesy of David's Dad who provides the necessary finance. Having had four children in quick succession, Harriet is beginning to suffer the stress and strain of rearing four children with the added complication of money worries. There is also the fact that her parents and in-laws do not approve of her having so many children and especially having them so close together. Therefore Harriet is naturally dismayed to discover she is pregnant with her fifth child and when the pregnancy becomes increasingly painful and the growing baby unnaturally active, she is at the end of her tether and by the time the baby arrives she is convinced he/she will not be "normal".

Baby Ben is an extremely large and unprepossessing infant being very hairy and having a neanderthal appearance. From birth he is difficult and seems to respond only to his own basic needs and fails to respond to others. As he grows things deteriorate even further and Ben becomes a danger, both emotionally and even physically, to his siblings which in turn places a huge strain on Harriet and David's marriage and forces them to take steps. There are several developments in this novel which I will not go into as it is best left to the reader to make their own journey.

This is a compelling and disturbing story and raises many questions, not least how society views and treats disability.
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