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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sacred cow of motherhood painfully examined
In this book Doris Lessing has an 'admirable' and blameless middle class couple, David and Harriet, as her central characters. They decide they want to have a big family and they go about it the 'right' way - taking good jobs so that they can afford the big house with plenty of room for babies, then when the babies do come along, creating a homely atmosphere, full of...
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars it's not love, it's guilt....
I enjoyed reading The Fifth Child (translated into Greek) but I don't think that Harriet actually loved Ben....she felt guilty, she felt responsible for giving birth to him, that is why she brought him back home. I will read the sequel entitled Ben In The World soon just to see what happened to Ben when he reached adulthood. It is worth reading The Fifth Child.
Published on 15 Jan 2008 by nassia


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sacred cow of motherhood painfully examined, 14 Nov 2012
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
In this book Doris Lessing has an 'admirable' and blameless middle class couple, David and Harriet, as her central characters. They decide they want to have a big family and they go about it the 'right' way - taking good jobs so that they can afford the big house with plenty of room for babies, then when the babies do come along, creating a homely atmosphere, full of home baking, where relatives are always welcome and there's always child-centred fun on offer around the kitchen table. Then, along comes the fifth child, Ben. Ben is odd and disturbed in a way that nobody can correctly diagnose. He hurts his brothers and sisters and the family pets, he proves violent and disruptive at school and he shows no affection or attachment whatsoever.

The arrival of this fifth child blows apart Harriet and David's warm, if slightly smug, world. Harriet blames herself: perhaps she 'made' Ben this bad, or is imagining it (which is what her doctor tells her). David removes himself entirely from the situation, and his irritation at having to work so hard to maintain a home that is no longer happy takes over. Their other children see the arrival of this disruptive sibling as a lesson that their idyllic world up until now was too good to be true, and begin to move away from the family circle.

If you want your fiction to be entirely realistic, avoid this book. Lessing often uses exageration to make her point more forcefully, so if you are going to worry that that social services or a hospital would get involved in this situation in the real world, her writing isn't for you.

If on the other hand, you want a deep, complex examination of the minefield of childbirth and family politics, I guarantee that you will never forget this book or the issues that it raises; you will appreciate every single word of this compulsive, important and powerful book.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A traumatic but worthwhile read, 14 May 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (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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14 of 15 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
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First warm, than cold: a disturbing family drama, 6 Feb 2012
By 
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
Harriet, 24 and David, 30 ignored the seductions of the roaring 60's and dreamed of a warm, happy future life with lots of children and family around. David's father helps them buy a big country house with 3 floors, a huge attic and a large overgrown garden.

Harriet has 4 pregnancies in 6 years. None were easy, but the deliveries fortunately were. Both their families love to spend the Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays in their hotel-sized house, staying for many days, even weeks: David's parents with their new partners, Harriet's sisters with their children; other cousins, nieces, etc. A paradise for parents and their children. After the birth of Paul, their 4th baby, H & D decide to postpone a fifth child for at least 3 years: Harriet is dead tired, relying heavily on her mother Dorothy to deal with daily chores. These are the happy, often magical parts of this short novel full of earnest values and ideas about the concept of family.

Soon after Paul's birth, Harriet is pregnant again despite her having been ever so careful. The wider family is worried and peeved. Was their advice ignored? Her 5th pregnancy is also very painful. The fetus kicks from the third month. Harriet's pain creates stress and turns the warm home into an unhappy, motherless house, because she is trying, 24/7 to simply survive this horrible pregnancy.

When Ben is born prematurely after 8 months, this book turns into a horror novel: he weighs 11 pounds and looks like a muscular Neanderthaler. What follows is for readers to find out.

Doris Lessing wrote a sequel to this family drama entitled "Ben,in the World", about how Ben survives, barely articulate and literate, apparently largely unfeeling with a poor memory, in modern times. This reader has not read it yet, but it may be as great a masterpiece as this novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an amazing story of family binds and their fragility, 4 Nov 2009
By 
JCG Pveyo (Lille, France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Hardcover)
Starting from an idealized vision of family life, the author lead us to explore the failure of any possible anticipation of the future and to witness the decline of relationships provoked by an alien son who represents the incarnation of violence and threaten. Excellent.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A harrowing novel, 9 Feb 2006
By 
HORAK (Zug, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping and Unsettling Read, 16 Nov 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
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. Admittedly there are parts to this novel that are a little unconvincing and I kept thinking would this couple really have reacted in the way they did in certain situations - which I would love to discuss further, but cannot as it would mean revealing spoilers - and I do have to say that I became rather irritated with David and Harriet (as I am sure the author intended) as they selfishly go ahead with their plans for their dream life, buying a huge house they cannot afford, having one child after another and expecting Harriet's mother to spend all her time looking after them, and relying on David's father to pay the mortgage and the school fees. And having accepted David's wealthy father's handouts, could they not have used some of this money to find a more enlightened specialist (even in the 1970s/80s) who might have been able to offer a more satisfactory diagnosis or even just a more sympathetic approach to Ben's problems? All of that said however, I found this a gripping and unputdownable read, which I started and finished in one sitting and although I have read several of this author's novels, reading this has made me keen to obtain those that I haven't yet read and remedy that situation. If you are in the mood for a literary chiller (its most chilling factor being the failure to adequately acknowledge, let alone begin to address Ben's difficulties) then this should fit the bill for you.

4 Stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking read, 17 Aug 2008
By 
Ms. L. J. Armstrong (Reading) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
I'd never read Doris Lessing before and this was a really pleasantly surprised. This is a thought provoaking and disturbing tale, a horror story really. I will definitely be reading the follow up 'Ben in the Real World'. Recommended
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, unsettling, compelling, 25 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
Harriet and David are instinctively drawn to each other through a mutual yearning to play traditional happy families. They marry almost immediately, stretch their finances to live in an enormous home, and Harriet gives birth to four normal, healthy children amidst a whirl of family gatherings and old-fashioned support. Ben, the fifth child, is different even before he is born, torturing Harriet from within; and then after birth, immediately proves himself insatiable, brutal, `other'. Harriet and David become convinced that Ben is not quite human - somehow a throwback from an ancient, primitive race, and untameable. In the face of this indomitable force of nature, their carefully constructed family idyll begins to crumble...

The story of this unearthly cuckoo in the nest, threatens all sanguinity. How can a mother relate to an `alien' child? How does one balance the overwhelming demands of one presence against all others in one's life? If Harriet and David's life before Ben seemed a little too pat, with the extended family (willingly) playing too large a role in sustaining the dream, life after Ben shakes every foundation and forces reassessment of every assumption.

Lessing's prose is succinct and unobtrusive, telling her story simply and without sensationalism. Whether or not one believes Ben is a `throwback' - a truly primitive force - or simply a different child (perhaps the product of a distant, unloving family; perhaps autistic, for example) failed by the social and welfare structures of his time, Lessing somehow conveys his vulnerability as well as his impenetrability and brutality.

This is a dark, unsettling, and reluctantly compelling read. I will definitely be reading the sequel, 'Ben in the World'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unsettling read that will certainly affect you for many hours after finishing it, 29 Jan 2010
This review is from: The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) (Paperback)
This was my second Lessing novel, and though I liked The Grass Is Singing better, this novel is still a true Lessing novel: her pure and raw, naturalist writing style and voice is ever present, and she's tackling problematic, difficult issues again: a weird child is born into a large family as the fifth child, the mother begins to hate and resent the baby and the pregnancy as it causes her unprecedented suffering, she starts referring to the baby as "the enemy" and even wants to initiate the birth one month early. But unfortunately things get even worse once the baby is born. Noone, none of his siblings or family members and not even his parents like him. They try to like him, they try to tell themselves the newborn is normal, just a bit different than their previous children, but they can't not notice the many weird things. The dilemma remains all through the novel: is the fifth child an abnormal weird, evil creature and is the family and the mother right not to love him or is he a lonely kid, who became the way he is because he didn't get the love and intimacy from anyone? It isn't an easily answered question.

I believe one of the main characteristics of Lessing is her ability to unnerve and unsettle the reader: to tell her stories in such an unmannered simple way that it gets under the skin of the reader and affects them. This novel stayed with me long after I finished reading it, the story, the dilemma and the human lives and fates introduced kept me thinking and debating for many more hours after that last page.
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The Fifth Child (Paladin Books)
The Fifth Child (Paladin Books) by Doris Lessing (Paperback - 2 April 2001)
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