Friday, January 1, 1999

The Fifth Child

by Doris Lessing

A middle-class English couple buck the disapproval of both their families and plan to have “at least six” children, buying a huge house and becoming the focus of all holiday gatherings.  The fifth child, however, Ben, after a difficult pregnancy, turns out to be some sort of evil throwback, horrifying and sending away the extended family.

This slim novel appears to be making a comment on social selfishness, as well as being a parable for our violent modern times – “the barbarous eighties,” as the novel says.  I would have liked the story to come to some sort of solid ending; instead, the book ends as the mother considers selling the giant, empty house, and as Ben and his gang of Clockwork Orange droogs venture gradually from riots and petty theft to more vicious crimes.  The mother assumes he will probably move forever to some even more depraved urban pit.  This device is no doubt meant to emphasize the universality of the problem, as if Ben were an Everythug.  A rather chilling tale, but not exceedingly deep, and in the end unsatisfying.

three stars

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