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The Fifth Child (Vintage International)by Doris Lessing
Synopses & Reviews
Doris Lessing's contemporary gothic horror story—centered on the birth of a baby who seems less than human—probes society's unwillingness to recognize its own brutality.
Harriet and David Lovatt, parents of four children, have created an idyll of domestic bliss in defiance of the social trends of late 1960s England. While around them crime and unrest surge, the Lovatts are certain that their old-fashioned contentment can protect them from the world outside—until the birth of their fifth baby. Gruesomely goblin-like in appearance, insatiably hungry, abnormally strong and violent, Ben has nothing innocent or infant-like about him. As he grows older and more terrifying, Harriet finds she cannot love him, David cannot bring himself to touch him, and their four older children are afraid of him. Understanding that he will never be accepted anywhere, Harriet and David are torn between their instincts as parents and their shocked reaction to this fierce and unlovable child whose existence shatters their belief in a benign world.
"Doris Lessing has returned from her explorations to write a conventional novel. More precisely, it's a morality tale, a
puffed-up short story of a happy couple, Harriet and David, who come face-to-face with brutality. Halfway through this 133-page book, the reader is groggy from happy Harriet's repeated pregnancies and the repeated jolly family parties when a flock of faceless people gather for holidays at Harriet and David's. By the time pregnancy five comes along we know something has gone wrong with this happy picture because the fetus starts early to try to kick its way out of Harriet's womb. Lessing's description of Harriet's agonizing pregnancy is hard to take, not only because it is so drawn out, but one cannot believe a doctor would permit this to happen to any woman. By the time the baby arrives the reader, if not Harriet, is too worn out to care what the abnormal, destructive baby Ben is supposed to symbolize, or what Lessing, a gifted, prolific writer, is trying to say about self-satisfied people and society in the barbarous 80's. Or maybe what she's really writing about is birth control." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
In the unconstrained atmosphere of England in the late 1960s, Harriet and David Lovatt, an upper-middle-class couple, face a frightening vicissitude. As the days' events take a dark and ugly turn nearing apocalyptic intensity, the Lovatts' guarded contentedness and view of the world as a benign place are forever shattered by the violent birth of their fifth child: Ben, monstrous in appearance, insatiably hungry, abnormally strong, demanding, brutal.
About the Author
Doris Lessing was born of British parents in Persia, in 1919, and moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia when she was five years old. She went to England in 1949 and has lived there ever since. She is the author of more than thirty books—novels, stories, reportage, poems, and plays. In 2007, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
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