6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The sacred cow of motherhood painfully examined,
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.