Customer Review

2 of 3 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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4.0 out of 5 stars (46 customer reviews)
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