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The Fifth Child
Cover of The Fifth Child
The Fifth Child
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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'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.
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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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 1, 1988
    Lessing's latest novel is profoundly disquieting, not only for the story it tells but also for the message it conveys. Harriet and David, both conservative, old-fashioned and out of step with the liberated '60s, meet in London and know immediately that they are meant to marry. They buy a white elephant of a house in the suburbs and begin to fill its many bedrooms with children. Smugly determined to create a happy family, they unashamedly sponge off David's father and exploit Harriet's mother as an unpaid nanny. The first four children are adorable, but when Harriet becomes pregnant for the fifth time, she realizes that this baby is different. Painfully active in the womb, newborn Ben seems more like a monster than child; Harriet thinks he is a throwback to humanity's primitive forebears. Howling and raging, enormously strong, Ben inspires fear and horror. After he strangles two pets and menaces his siblings, David sends him away to an institution. Harriet is compelled to bring him home, but his presence irrevocably destroys family harmony. Ben eventually finds his niche with a group of dropouts who become thugs, thieves and muggers. There this horror story ends, and we are left with Lessing's indictment of those in authority who refuse to acknowledge responsibility for the violence inherent in mankind. More disquieting, in equating Ben with the lower and, she intimates, uncivilized strata of society, Lessing seems to assert a message of upper-class superiority. The implications of this slim, gripping work are ominous. 30,000 first printing; Literary Guild main selection.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 17, 1989
    A smug, conservative couple's fifth child (after four model children) inspires fear and horror. ``The implications of this slim, gripping work are ominous,'' wrote PW. Lessing indicts those in authority who refuse to acknowledge responsibility for the violence inherent in mankind.

  • The New York Times Book Review

    "A hair-raising tale...as full of twists and shocks as any page turner could desire." --Time"Terse and chilling.... A witch's brew of conflicting fears." --The New York Review of Books"A horror story of maternity and the nightmare of social collapse.... A moral fable of the genre that includes Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four."

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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The Fifth Child
The Fifth Child
Doris Lessing
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