The Fifth Child

The Fifth Child

3.8 23
by Doris Lessing
     
 

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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

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679721826
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/28/1989
Series:
Vintage International Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
144
Sales rank:
183,760
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

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.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
London, England
Date of Birth:
October 22, 1919
Place of Birth:
Persia (now Iran)

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The Fifth Child 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yea whats up?
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Dierckx More than 1 year ago
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?
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Shaday09 More than 1 year ago
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.