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The Fifth Child [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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The Fifth Child

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Overview

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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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. (May)
Library Journal
Mildly eccentric English couple Harriet and David Lovatt are the contented parents of four healthy children. Suddenly, their peace is forever shattered by their fifth child, Ben, a fiercely malevolent goblin-child with a penchant for violence. It is suggested that Ben is a throwback to earlier, precivilized time, that he represents a random settling of neanderthal-like genes that all humans carry. Only Harriet tries to civilize the boy, and he gradually learns to function on a primitive level and even collects a band of similar outcasts about him. Unwanted, they leave their homes to wander England like modern-day troglodytes. Society's complicity with their fate is a reflection of its callousness. Not major Lessing but sensitive and strangely compelling nevertheless. Laurence Hull, Cannon Memorial Lib., Concord, N.C.
From the Publisher
“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.” —The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307777645
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/17/2010
  • Series: Vintage International
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 138,918
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet 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.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Biography

"Doris Lessing is the kind of writer who has followers, not just readers," Lesley Hazleton once observed. But the Nobel Prize-winning Lessing, whose classic novel The Golden Notebook was embraced as a feminist icon, has seldom told her followers exactly what they wanted to hear. For much of her career, she has frustrated readers' expectations and thwarted would-be experts on her work, penning everything from traditional narratives to postmodern novels to mystic fables.

Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) and grew up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where her father made an unsuccessful attempt to farm maize. Though she loved living on the farm, her family life was often tense and unhappy. Lessing married at the age of 20, but three years later, feeling stifled by colonial life and increasingly distressed by the racism of her society, she joined the Communist Party, "because they were the only people I had ever met who fought the color bar in their lives."

Soon after that, she left her husband and first two children to marry fellow Communist Gottfried Lessing, with whom she had a son. They divorced, and she took her son with her to England, where she published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, to high acclaim. After several more novels, including the semi-autobiographical series Children of Violence, Lessing wrote The Golden Notebook, a postmodern, fragmentary narrative about a writer's search for identity. The Golden Notebook gained a passionate following in the feminist movement and "left its mark upon the ideas and feelings of a whole generation of women," as Elizabeth Hardwick wrote.

To Lessing's dismay, she was frequently cited as a "feminist writer" after that. Yet as Diane Johnson pointed out in a 1978 review of Stories, Lessing "also understands men, politics, social class, striving, religion, loneliness and lust." Johnson added: "Mrs. Lessing is the great realist writer of our time, in the tradition of the major Continental novelists of the 19th century, particularly Stendhal and Balzac, but also Turgenev and Chekhov -- a masculine tradition with which she shares large moral concerns, an earnest and affirmative view of human nature, and a dead-eye for social types."

But Lessing, who once called realist fiction "the highest form of prose writing," soon launched into a science-fiction series, Canopus in Argos: Archives, which baffled many of her fans. Lessing used the term "space fiction" for the series, which recounts human history from the points of view of various extraterrestrial beings. Though Lessing gained some new readers with her Canopus series, her early admirers were relieved when she came back to Earth in The Fifth Child, the story of a monstrous child born to ordinary suburban parents, which Carolyn Kizer deemed "a minor classic." Later novels like Mara and Dann included elements of fantasy and science fiction, but recently, with the publication of The Sweetest Dream, Lessing has returned to domestic fiction in the realist mode, which many critics still see as her best form.

Throughout her life, Lessing has been drawn to systems for improving human experience -- first Marxism, then the psychiatry of R. D. Laing, then Sufi mysticism. But her yearning for a single, transcendent truth coexists with a sharp awareness of the contradictory mix of vanities, passions, and aggressions that make up most human lives. As Margaret Drabble noted, Lessing is "one of the very few novelists who have refused to believe that the world is too complicated to understand."

Good To Know

Lessing's African stories painted a grim picture of white colonialism and the oppression of black Africans, and in 1956, Lessing was declared a prohibited alien in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. In 1995, she was able to visit her daughter and grandchildren in South Africa, where her works are now acclaimed for the same content that was once condemned.

Though she was briefly allied with the Communist Party in Salisbury, Lessing has frequently insisted that the picture of her as a political activist is exaggerated. "I am always being described as having views that I never had in my life," she once told the Guardian. She has, however, been an outspoken critic of the racial politics of South Africa, and she once turned down the chance to become a Dame of the British Empire on the grounds that there is no British Empire.

To demonstrate how difficult it is for new writers to get published, Lessing sent a manuscript to her publishers under the pseudonym Jane Somers. Her British publisher turned it down, as did several other prominent publishers (though her American editor detected the ruse and accepted the book). The Diary of a Good Neighbour was published as the work of Jane Somers, to little fanfare and mixed critical reviews. Lessing followed it with a sequel, If the Old Could..., before revealing her identity as the author of both.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Doris May Tayler (birth name), Jane Somers (pseudonym)
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 22, 1919
    2. Place of Birth:
      Persia (now Iran)
    1. Date of Death:
      November 17, 2013
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 22 )
Rating Distribution

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(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2008

    Pleasant Surprise...

    At first, when I put the title together with the brief online synopsis that I had read, I thought this would be something like The Omen. However, while this is definitely a part of that whole bad seed genre, it's really nothing like it. While The Omen focuses on the horrific aspects of Damien's presence, The Fifth Seed centers more around the emotional changes/downward spiral that occurred as a result of/after the birth of 'the fifth child'. With that said, one thing I love about this book is that it wasn't predictable by any means and I just could never figure out where the story was gonna go next.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Menacing tale

    Definitely a cautionary tale to those whom want children. This book resembles aspects of The Omen, but yet has a creepy factor of it's own. The books starts off as a hopeful married couple wanting to have a large family of 6-10 children. However, during the fifth pregnancy, Harriet (the wife) is in such pain that she reaches the conclusion that the fetus is causing her pain and suffering. The pain and suffering only amplified once the fifth child was born. The father didn't love him the other children were scared of this child that committed murders as a toddler. The family that was so happy and in love were torn apart by a goblin like creature. The parents finally reached a decision to send the child to an institute, but then the mother riddled with guilt made the worst choice..... This is a quick read, and is an unusual format for a book because it doesn't have any chapters (which it took me to about pg 100 to realize). I couldn't put this menacing tale of a boy that can mentally and physical destroy everything and everyone in his path, while convincing doctors and other health professionals that there is nothing wrong with him. There is a sequel to this book, which I intend to read, because for me the ending was not what I expected and am curious to find out what became of the fifth child, because this book kind of left his fate undecided.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2004

    makes you think the unthinkable

    a well-told story that raises harrowing questions. what are the limits of a parent's love? what are the limits of a society's duty to care? are all children lovable? should they be? this novella forces the reader to take a painstaking look at evil and challenges us to refrain from passing judgement on the good souls faced with it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2002

    The Title Says It all

    At the beggining of this book i was thinking what does this have to do with the title. This book has to be one of my favorites. Harriet is very determined and loyal while David works hard but just can't handle some situations. The auhtor provides a point of view from child and parent so you get the idea of both siuations. And as for Harriets mother, boy does she get a work out.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Mother's Little Hero.

    In the relaxed mood of England in the late 1960s, Harriet and David Lovatt, face an unpleasant change of fortune when their fifth child is born.
    It's a boy and they call him Ben. The publisher calls him" monstrous in appearance, insatiable hungry, abnormally strong, demanding, brutal".
    Voila, just a normal kid I should say.

    After Ben is born it strikes me that after some time the father apparently has no interest at all in the education of his fifth child. I've been told that a father is less preoccupied by his children than the mother. 'Less preoccupied' is an understatement in this case. 'Totally uninterested' would be a better phrase. It's almost as if he wants to distance himself completely, foreseeing a family disaster.

    Later on Ben wants to lead his own life and he leaves his parents. But one day his mother is watching TV and she sees a coverage of a rather brutal demonstration. She recognizes Ben among the demonstrators and she makes the decision to go searching for her son.
    But who is this kid really? Is he a juvenile delinquent? Is he autistic? I don't believe that he says two understandable words in the whole novel.

    I believe that this book is one of the most enigmatic novels written by Doris Lessing. Is it a crime novel? Is it a symbolic novel about the times we are living in? Maybe one of the main questions is: how far goes the love of a mother for her child?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2003

    The mistery of parenthood

    Why is it that most parents love their children and their children love them? Why do we take that love for granted? This short, breathtaking novel by Lessing makes us ask ourselves questions like that. It combines the narrative and fantastic genres. Poor Mark and Harriet. I'm glad I'm not under their skin.Please don't read this book before going to bed, or you won't sleep at all. And, what is worse, you will stay awake asking yourself if those noises are perhaps your children, awake and thinking God knows what.

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    Posted July 3, 2011

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