The Fifth Child By Doris Lessing – Horror Or Tragedy? You Decide

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing needs no introduction in my site (please refer to the previous entry).  I had one other book in mind when I visited the library last week but it was not available.  So I have decided to pick another book authored by Doris Lessing.  Spoilt by options, I chose a rather short novel (160 pages) – “The Fifth Child” – as well as its sequel “Ben in the World”.  The sequel was selected by pure chance.

Reading Doris Lessing reminded me of one of the literature values the famous Italian writer Italo Calvino promoted in his “Six Memos for the Next Millennium” – Quickness.  The pace of “The Fifth Child” is extremely fast especially for the first quarter of the book.  The two main characters – David and Harriet – fell in love, bought a huge mansion in London, had their first child, then second, then third, then fourth and in the same period, other family characters were introduced to paint a ‘happy’ and ‘cheerful’ environment for the couple who was determined to be happy and had as many children as possible – all within 40 of pages.

Then Harriet was pregnant with the fifth child.  And that is when the story turns into a tragedy.  This thing that was born has no better word to describe than perhaps, troll or goblin or medieval human being.  Doris Lessing’s subtle sensitivity shines through the passages of horror and shock that each character has to bear.  The ‘happy’ family was shattered, no longer lived in harmony, and there came the irrational actions of Harriet’s heroic struggle to love her son without reciprocation, against the will of her family.  Nobody would understand.  I too would not.  However, under Doris Lessing’s pen, Harriet’s unconditional, yet difficult, love towards this thing inspires the readers how powerful maternal love can be.  The feeling described is so real that, to me, it almost read as a horror story that I could not stop reading.

I have just started reading the sequel “Ben in the World”.  So far, it is even better than “The Fifth Child”.  If you have the stomach for this kind of novel, you may wish to give it a try.

Related Entries:-

16 thoughts on “The Fifth Child By Doris Lessing – Horror Or Tragedy? You Decide”

  1. Do you have a full book review of Doris Lessing’s fifth child? I desperately need it.
    Thaks for your answer.

  2. Suzie – Hi, I am afraid that is all I have got at the moment. Just curious as well as for my future reference, what would you like to see that is perhaps lacking in this entry? “The Fifth Child” is quite a thin book by the way. I thought I have captured the essence of the impact that book has on this review.

  3. Wilfrid,
    Your work is outstanding! I mean it . But I have ESL kids and would like to try it with them next fall. So I am kind of looking for a more simple and wordy details that may be to their level ( 12th Esl).

  4. Suzie – Thanks for your kind words! I have returned the book to the library already. Do you have a sample of what kind of write-up you are looking for? I may not have the time to do it now but I am very much interested to know.

    On a separate note, I don’t know how old are those who are in the 12th ESL (is it “English as Second Language” or something else?) but this story may be better appreciated by adults than younger crowds?

    Just my thoughts. Then again, I may have lost touch with the younger generation 🙂

  5. Wilfrid, Hi.
    My students are between 16 and 18 and English is a second or a foreign language for them. I think I came now up with a plan I would like to present them, thank you though for offering your help.

  6. Suzie – Hi there. I think language-wise, what Doris Lessing writes is beautiful yet simple. However, if my memory serves me right, there was some sex involved before marriage. And the second part of the book is pretty dark, rather depressing. Adults may be able to appreciate the emotions involved. I am not sure if a 16 to 18 years old would understand. Also, Doris Lessing’s story usually may not resolve into any conclusion and I wonder if young adults prefer to read materials that have incremental goals achieved instead.

    My another reservation is that the sequel of “The Fifth Child” is definitely not suitable for the younger crowd. There is a fair amount of sex scenes with prostitutes as well as violence. And the morale of the story may not be easily derived to justify all these events.

    My humble thoughts.

  7. Wilfrid
    I think you are absolutely right , I don’t know how to deal with the premarriage sex business and the last part is so dark that I am pretty afraid of the impact the book is going to have on them. But, I have a national curriculum I have to stick to.

    I haven’t read Ben in the world yet, definately not going to present it to them.

  8. Suzie – If this book is inside the national curriculum, I think we need to highlight the point that premarital sex has consequences, which in the book, ends up with pregnancy and marriage.

    The main theme of the story, in my opinion, would be accepting responsibilities. In the story, Ben’s mother defies all adversities and she accepts her role as a mother, decides to raise Ben up even if her own family abandons her. In that sense, family stress is very real and is applicable to our lives.

    Lastly, it is about accepting responsibilities without expectation. In the mother’s case, her son’s situation does not improve and in the end, he leaves her and leads a life on his own. So, question is: what does Ben’s mother get in the end?

    A broken family? A son who now nowhere to be found? Should her go for abortion when the doctor detected something wrong with the pregnancy or sent her son to some nurseries so that she can be freed from her responsibilities?

    Maternal love, I think is the ultimate theme we have here.

    If you could bring these themes up, Suzie, rather than letting the young adults dwell onto the depressing side of the story, that may in fact shape character.

  9. Thanks for all these comments Wilfrid, they are really going to be helpful.

    Another question if you may, do you happend to know where I can get an ebook or scanned extracts of it? Thanks again for your help.

  10. Suzie – I’m not sure your physical location. Here in Singapore, “The Fifth Child” can be found in many library branches. There are eBooks available but I think you need to make a purchase. I wish I could scan in a few chapters for you to sample.

    Best of luck and keep in touch!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.