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3.9 out of 5 stars21
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 27 December 2008
I was looking forward to Ben's story and the epilogue to "The Fifth Child" by the same author. I have enjoyed this book even more than I had its predecessor. This is a book about being different. About acceptance and understanding. A book that pierces the heart.
Ben Lovatt. Who was he? What was he? As vulnerable as a newborn baby, yet at times very wild, instinctive, almost... feral.

May I suggest to read "The Fifth Child" first. This sequel stands on its own perfectly but I still feel that the reader would understand Ben's tale better by reading about his birth and family beforehand.

Once again I have admired Ms. Lessing's writing style (just like before, no chapters in this book, just a few pauses) and her ability to convey an emotional pathos with a simplicity that captivates deeply. This book was gripping, powerful and really sad. The quote from a newspaper on the book cover summarizes my feelings "A wonderful novel, flawless as a black pearl".
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on 5 September 2012
(3.5 stars)

At 18 years old (looking twice his age) Ben has left home, and is seeking his own place in the world. He has always been `different', and although he has learned (for the most part) to contain his instinctive impulses, he is becoming increasingly desperate to find more people like himself, somewhere he can belong in a world he simply doesn't understand. Although he meets several people who accept him as he is, for various reasons their refuge is short-lived and instead his life is manipulated by people he knows he cannot trust yet still cannot evade. After being used to carry drugs to France, Ben finds himself in Brazil where he appears to be a highly sought prize by scientists at a local research centre, but also ever closer to the promise of more `people like him'...

Ben in the world is a different Ben to the one introduced in 'The Fifth Child'. He has grown up, learned to control his primal urges, and scrape by in a world which is designed to take advantage of him. Lessing entirely turns the tables on one's expectations of what Ben might have become, and his vulnerability is emphasised rather than the horror of his `otherness'. Although Lessing certainly retains and expands on her neanderthal throwback theory, I still thought there was sufficient ambiguity in the telling to see Ben as a (very misunderstood) person with some form of learning difficulties, and representative of all those people who fall through the cracks of welfare systems designed to help.

I'm glad that I read this book, as I was fascinated and intrigued by 'The Fifth Child' and really wanted to know more about Ben. His perspective of the world was entirely other than I expected but this makes for more interesting reading. After a while, though, I began to tire of Ben's passivity, and the way dramatic things `just happened' to him. The world Ben inhabited didn't feel very much like the `real' world. Although there was always a fable-ish quality to 'The Fifth Child', this seemed more suited to the context of Harriet & David's crumbling idyll than to the wider scope of Ben's experience. It is probably intended as an allegory for broader problems in the world at large, but I felt less willing to buy into it than I did with the earlier story. Ultimately, this was a sad, slightly poignant but less powerful story than that which preceded it.
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on 9 February 2010
'The Fifth Child' had a kind of haunting resonance that left you wondering 'what happened next' - but it would have been much better if it had been left at that. A useful long plane journey kind of read I suppose. It has to be said it's not at all well written - too hasty and casual - and the story is pretty hammy. You get the impression it was written more in the sixties than in 2000, the detail is just too naïve, superficial and cliched - certainly not what you'd expect from a Nobel prize winner. It's going to the bookshelf in the garage 'till I can find somebody to palm it off on.
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on 27 February 2012
Lessing wrote this book 12 years after her heart-rending novel "The Fifth Child". That book was written from the family perspective: the parents, their four children and other relatives basking in the wonderful life this family led until the unplanned, fifth pregnancy. Ben's birth weight was 5 kilos despite being a month early. And everyone stared at him, thinking, "what is this"? Ben looked like a baby from prehistory.
The traumatic pregnancy caused stress in the family, his birth aggravates tensions year after year... Ben learns some basics in school, but at home he has to be locked in overnight. He disappears from the family he disrupted so thoroughly and unknowingly, at age 15.
This novel presents Ben at the age of 18, hirsute, looking 35+, immensely strong. He is always cheated out of his rightful pay in physical jobs and barely survives in London, sleeping in parks or doorways. His oldest warm memory is his mother, who saved him from a deadly mental institution his father had consigned him to. And old Mrs. Gibbs, who took him in after an incident in a supermarket and taught him a few key things. And 17-year old prostitute Rita who likes Ben's primitive lovemaking. She is controlled by Johnston, a criminal, who uses Ben successfully in a big drug deal, then abandons him in Nice, France.
So, from Ben's perspective only 3 persons loved(?) him. The rest of the world not. The book then moves to Brazil. In my humble opinion, esp. the account of Ben's life in Brazil is poorly conceived, -plotted, -written and -edited. Ben wins another friend, Teresa, but also kindles the ambition of people who want to exploit him in the name of science. Readers will understand Ben better, even feel pity for him, but the book is a poor sequel to "The Fifth Child".
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on 23 February 2009
Doris Lessing is a great writer. One of her marks of greatness is that she can write accessible novels that are easy to understand but at the same time thought-provoking.
I started this novel under the impression that I was not going to like it as much as the first one, but I was mistaken. Maybe The Fifth Child is more of a masterpiece, but it is also unbearably disturbing at times. In Ben, in the World, we encounter many cruel and inhumane situations, but there is also tenderness in abundance.
What I like the most about this book is the fact that one gets a new perspective on Ben. He stops being a monster and becomes an endearing, lost human being. It's true that he can be violent at times, but it's probably because he was never truly loved by his own family.He never belonged. His sin? He's just different.
An easy-to-read story that leaves a mark.You won't forget Ben in a hurry.
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on 18 June 2000
This novel is somewhat picaresque, as it follows the fortunes of Ben, in London, France and South America. Ben is an outsider, he is human and also 'some kind of genetic throwback.' There are many people who feel alienated, alone, outside, and Ben speaks for them all. At the heart of the novel is Ben's increasing sadness and desperation at finding himself alone, 'his people' are nowhere to be found. The story is elegantly and subtly written, adding to its powerful effect. The novel is an allegory, is a mirror to an often cruel world, and is extremely moving and thought-provoking. It certainly puts many other recent self-indulgent novels to shame.
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VINE VOICEon 23 March 2014
I read the Fifth Child recently which told the story of Ben's upbringing and wanted to read the sequel to find out more about what happened to him as he grew up.
Ben has always been told he is different and he is. In this book he moves from his close knit family into the wider world which, in some ways, is more forgiving of his appearance and behaviours. Yes he is still different but his experiences show others who are much more sinister and monstrous than Ben. As we follow him through the world of the underclass, Ben's difficulties are explored sensitively.
The writing is beautiful, creating fabulous images and emotions. Gradually we understand more about how Ben works which develops into empathy and admiration of his ability to cope with all that life can throw at him.
As with the previous book, the format is uncomfortable with no chapters and no breaks in the narrative which makes the read awkward (I think that is Doris Lessings plan!)
I'm not convinced that Ben needed to be moved around the world to show his differences and the book may have been even more effective if he had been left at home. If thinking of him as a real person, would he really have met all the people he did?
At the end I came away from the book frustrated. It is beautiful and I loved reading it but I didn't believe that his family had simply given up on him and I wanted to see some of the story from their side.... Maybe the opportunity for someone to write another sequel! However, the book raised lots of emotions in me and that is always good!
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on 9 February 2006
Ben is now eighteen. Broad face, delineated features, a perpetual stupid grin on his face. Most people compare him to a kind of misshapen dog. He roams the streets of London with gangs of miscreants. Later he is taken by Matthew Grindly to a cider farm to pick apples but one of the workers snatches away the envelope containing his pay. A couple, Johnston and Rita, use Ben to carry cocaine to Nice where they abandon him. Then a film maker, Alex Beyle, spots Ben and takes him to Brazil where he vaguely plans to use him in a film about a prehistoric tribe.
The novel unfortunately lacks the intensity one can find in "The Fifth Child". Although one can feel some measure of pity for Ben being dragged around and exploited by various people, the story is not as powerful and gripping as it was in the first novel.
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on 11 November 2011
The Fifth Child is a brilliant book in which Ben seems to be a monster: tearing his huge 'happy' family apart. In this sequel Doris Lessing shows up Ben's perspective on the world as he drifts in an incomprehensible blur from one 'minder' to the next - most of whom exploit him. Although the language and action is crude and lacking all humour or sophistication - I guess this is a style that might be appropriate for Ben's world. In the end, it's the message of the book that is important - Ben is alone in the world. There is no-one like him and no-one to understand him. I'm not sure this book would stand alone. I recommend reading The Fifth Child first.
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on 2 September 2000
An incredible book filled with emotion and intelligence. Ben feels very real, you get to know and care about him. Then life intervenes. Ben is a unique character and this book is one of the best I've read in recent years. Doris Lessing continues to write the kind of readable fiction that few other writers can produce. Intelligent, moving and important.
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