10 May 2007

Book Review: The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

New Year’s Reading Resolutions #10

The Fifth Child Harriet and David have always wanted the same thing: a big house filled with children. And despite the disapproval of their families - who think they’re selfish for continuing to produce kids in quick succession and in defiance of their relatively limited means - they set out to claim their vision of domestic bliss. Just when they think perfect happiness is theirs, Harriet discovers she is pregnant yet again - only this time, something is different. She can feel it; the child she is carrying doesn’t like her and can’t wait to be free of her. From the moment Ben is born with his cold goblin eyes, he is troublesome. Bad-tempered, fast-growing, and possessed of an almost unnatural strength ... he casts a blight over the happiness of everyone in the house. Visitors stop coming and his four older siblings seek refuge in boarding schools, in the homes of relatives, in hysteria. Yet Harriet cannot find anyone in authority to admit what all can see - that Ben is something other. Something not quite human ...

This novella was an enjoyable and imaginative read; I don’t think I’d come across a monstrous child in my reading before and the explanation offered for Ben’s difference was eerily plausible. There were some chilling moments, and even the early chapters were creepy because I knew the happiness wouldn’t last; I was mentally counting off children and waiting for number five. But for the most part I didn’t find it particularly frightening; it wasn’t anything that would make me start looking over my shoulder (though if there were any strange children in the neighbourhood, I might!). I later realised that for someone who had, or wanted, children it could have had more of an impact; the possibility of producing an abnormal child must be one of humankind’s most basic fears.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that I didn’t side with Harriet and David’s relatives during the disagreements. I could see why they wanted to keep on having children they were struggling to afford; something that in the real world I can never quite fathom.

Rating: B

3 comments:

sulz said...

sounds like an interesting book. and with all the blockbuster novels i've been trying to read lately a novella will be a very nice change.

now if only i can actually find it...

CoversGirl said...

Unfortunately finding specific books can be a challenge . . .

Annie the Superfast Reader said...

Found your blog through the Blogroll game and have signed up for your feed.

I read this book a while back & it really creeped me out. The more recent "We Need To Talk About Kevin" trod similar ground.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776