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THE FIFTH CHILD

By Doris Lessing
New York: Vintage Books, 1989
ISBN: 0-679-72182-7 (pbk) 243 pages

Bob Corbett
November 2016

Comments by Bob Corbett
November 2016

This is a very frightening novel and certainly not for everyone! At the obvious story level it is the tale of a family that starts out in an almost ďSound of MusicĒ ideality. There are four children, a loving mother and father, a huge family and they all center on the home and family of Harriet and David. For a whole third of the novel we read a loving, successful story of a marriage, a family and their inclusive large extended family.

And then comes the fifth child, Ben. He is completely different, something, we never really know what, is wrong with him. Itís not like any known condition, but he is sort of semi-human, and even as a tiny child begins to totally disrupt the familyís joy and ideality.

After a couple of years they simply canít deal with it and Ben, the fifth child, is sent off. However, Harriet, his mother, just canít accept that and she goes to the place where he is sent and discovers that it is a place where he will actually be allowed to simply die. She canít deal with this and brings him home.

Little by little there is no question; Ben destroys their family and lives.

The second two thirds of the tale is a brutal horror story of Benís wrecking of their lives. However, the whole of the story seems to be much larger than the story of the destruction of the society itself in our mid to late 20th century. It is a phenomenon which none of us seem to fully understand, but that many seem to see the horrors that are coming to the human race in our time.

As I mentioned at the outset, this is not a novel for all. However, I found it very disturbing, but challenging, fascinating and deeply troubling. But it is definitely not for every reader

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu