It was the summer of 2013 when a friend of mine, who s an English teacher, asked me how I would teach The Fifth Child Since I knew nothing about the book nor had it, she sent me a PDF copy and here I am, after an unsettling but fascinating reading, asking myself the same question what key of lecture could I offer Because it is, undoubtedly, worth reading A little masterpiece about the fragility of happiness and the illusion of the security provided by family, as the author herself said in It was the summer of 2013 when a friend of mine, who s an English teacher, asked me how I would teach The Fifth Child Since I knew nothing about the book nor had it, she sent me a PDF copy and here I am, after an unsettling but fascinating reading, asking myself the same question what key of lecture could I offer Because it is, undoubtedly, worth reading A little masterpiece about the fragility of happiness and the illusion of the security provided by family, as the author herself said in an interview I do have a sense, and I ve never not had it, of how easily things can vanish It s a sense of disaster I know where it comes from my upbringing That damn First World War, which rode my entire childhood, because my father was so damaged by it This damn war rammed down my throat day and night, and then World War II coming, which they talked about all the time You know, you can never get out from under this kind of upbringing, the continual obsession with this And after all, it s true These wars did arise, and destroyed a beautiful household with all the loving children This sense of disaster becomes Ben, the main character of this urban gothic story that shows not only how we get used to our misfortunes but how we even protect and nourish them.I remember Freud said somewhere that society is not comfortable with happy families, because, being strongly attached to one another, they tend to cut themselves off from others That s why civilisation imposes all sorts of taboos, laws, customs and other restrictions that ultimately separate the members of the family.Is Ben the embodiment of war and other evils society continuously pours over the individual Or is he truly the embodiment of all unhappiness man tries to fight during his life Or maybe the unknown that irrationally frighten us so much we need to reject it without really looking into it For here he comes, like a bad apple, in a family that, despite all pessimistic predictions, was living the dream, in a big house full of family and friends, sheltered until then from the storms of the world Here he comes, the Neanderthal baby , the troll, the goblin, the gnome, result of who knows what primitive gene lost in his parents bodies Not wanted, not expected and definitely not loved, he insinuates into the Lovatts life, changing it forever The trouble is, you get used to hell, said Harriet After a day with Ben I feel as if nothing exists but him As if nothing has ever existed I suddenly realize I haven t remembered the others for hours Is it not how misery strikes Like an incurable disease, it appears in the middle of joy, takes over little by little until it becomes the absolute king of a brand new sorrowful kingdom Why Because it isnatural for mankind to suffer than to be happy Or so Harriet thinks She said to David, We are being punished, that s all What for he demanded, already on guard because there was a tone in her voice he hated For presuming For thinking we could be happy Happy because we decided we would be And once acquainted with grief, it is almost impossible to separate from it That could explain why Harriet cannot bear the thought of Ben trapped in an institution that would ultimately kill him, even if she had wished him dead many times, and goes and rescues him, thus completing the family breakdown Around and around and around if I had let him die, then all of us, so many people, would have been happy, but I could not do it, and thereforeSo, to return to my previous questions is The Fifth Child about the vocation of misfortune which seems to be the fate of humanity Or is it about the external pressures, social, political, even medical ones that would determine this misfortune In other words, is the evil within us or outside us Moreover, do we indulge in our suffering, wherever it comes from Because, unfortunately, one thing is certain there is always a Ben somewhere waiting in the background, ready to spoil things Beware if you can The core dilemmaThis is a horror story exploring what happens when a monstrous child is born to a perfect family When there is no way for everyone to be happy and safe, who must sacrifice what, how does one choose and what happens when the parents can t agree It is essentially a variant of the Trolley Problem, where you see a runaway train at a fork in the track, with people at risk on both you can either do nothing, knowing five people will die, or actively divert it so that just one perso The core dilemmaThis is a horror story exploring what happens when a monstrous child is born to a perfect family When there is no way for everyone to be happy and safe, who must sacrifice what, how does one choose and what happens when the parents can t agree It is essentially a variant of the Trolley Problem, where you see a runaway train at a fork in the track, with people at risk on both you can either do nothing, knowing five people will die, or actively divert it so that just one person dies The plot is simple and told chronologically by an omniscient narrator Harriet and David want to fill their enormous house with a huge family They have four beautiful blond, blue eyed, rosy cheeked children in quick succession, in between hosting popular house parties at Christmas, Easter, and the summer holidays Then Ben is born If I had let him die, then all of us would have been happy There is no supernatural aspect, though it never feels quite plausible either not the original idyl living happiness in the old style , counter to the greedy and selfish sixties , nor the horror of Ben, and certainly not the degree to which some things are ignored by those around, including the authorities That made me increasingly question the accuracy of Harriet s fears and observations, whilst also feeling bad about not believing her, when she already felt so judged She wanted to be acknowledged, her predicament given its value What is wrong with Ben I don t think Ben is a subhuman throwback , changeling, troll, or alien as Harriet often says Although he s hyperactive and shares some traits with autistic people, his issues are not so easily defined Is he slow and misunderstood, irredeemably evil, or just not as loved and loveable as his siblings Is he as horrendous as Harriet claims To what extent is she to blame should we instead ask what s wrong with her But despite her fear and revulsion, she goes to great lengths to protect him, to the detriment of herself, her husband, and their other children The covers of various editions imply radically different answers There are also difficult questions about what punishments, containment, and threats are justified for the wider good It may be useful to compare this with We Need to Talk About Kevin I ve not read that, though I saw the film several years ago Differing dis abilitiesBen s existence fractures relationships all round, and forces choices that no parent wants to make How can you be fair when your children have hugely different needs How do you cope with not loving your own child with sometimes wishing he were dead I had my only child when I was 29, so when my routine scans sonograms were fine, I was not offered testing for Down s or anything else though we could have insured against a disabled child The odds were good, it would be our child, and we d do our best However, it would have been different if we already had a child whose life could be hugely and detrimentally affected by the birth of a severely disabled sibling That was long enough ago that I read this with understanding, but the safety of distance This is not a book to read if you re thinking about having a nother child any time soon While Ben arouses fear, his cousin with Down s Syndrome referred to as a Mongol childthan once is generally loved except by her own father distressed by physical disability and appalled by her and Harriet who assumes Amy is a symptom of an unhappy marriage Parental sacrifice and children s sense of entitlementMost parents make sacrifices for their children, but how far should they go A mother is fed by watching her children eat is a guilt inducing phrase I sometimes heard in childhood when money was tight my mother would treat us to something nice to eat, while eating toast herself It s either him or us He s our child No, he s not well he s certainly not mine Harriet and David make sacrifices for different combinations of their children, but their passive sense of entitlement towards their own parents is staggering they choose a huge house and family, but can only do so because David s father pays for it all, and Harriet s mother becomes a full time childminder and skivvy Both parents have other calls on their money and time, but go largely unthanked.When It spans twenty years, from the mid 60s to around the time it was published, but despite the odd mention of rising crime, it always felt stuck in the 60s, and certainly not like the late 80s I remember Nevertheless, I m glad I read it It s quite brutal, but raises profound questions, without suggesting answers However, the little I ve read about the sequel ensures I won t go on to that Quotes There was an ugly edge on eventsandit seemed that two peoples lived in England, not one enemies, hating each other, who could not hear what the other said Written of 1972, but applies today His taking possession of the future in her making love, intensely She knew the cost, in every way, of a family Harriet s mother, Molly When he bent to kiss her, and stroked Luke s heat, it was with a fierce possessiveness that Harriet liked and understood, for it was not herself being possessed, or the baby, but happiness Hers and his Her heart was hurt as it would be for one of her own, real children Ben was Harriet s responsibility and his was for the children the real children When she put her arms around him, there was no response, no warmth it was as if he did not feel her touch She had been drained of some ingredient that everyone took for granted The Fifth Child, Doris LessingThe Fifth Child is a short novel by the British writer Doris Lessing, first published in the United Kingdom in 1988, and since translated into several languages It describes the changes in the happy life of a married couple, Harriet and David Lovatt, as a consequence of the birth of Ben, their fifth child When David Lovatt meets Harriet at an office party, they both immediately fall in love They both share the same conservative outlooks, which they perceive to be The Fifth Child, Doris LessingThe Fifth Child is a short novel by the British writer Doris Lessing, first published in the United Kingdom in 1988, and since translated into several languages It describes the changes in the happy life of a married couple, Harriet and David Lovatt, as a consequence of the birth of Ben, their fifth child When David Lovatt meets Harriet at an office party, they both immediately fall in love They both share the same conservative outlooks, which they perceive to be a rarity in the London of the 1960 s The two marry and purchase a large house in a small town within commuting distance of London The couple both intend to have several children, a wish frowned upon by the rest of the family By the time they have four children, two boys and two girls, their house becomes a center of joy not only for them but for all their relatives and friends who come and visit This continues until Harriet has a fifth, wildly dysfunctional child, Ben Her painful pregnancy with him marks the beginning of the misery and suffering that this child brings to the whole family 2016 1393 208 1393 208 2007 The Selfish Gene PoolMy mother had six live births The eggs didn t get any better as they went on Neither did the quality of family life I don t know if she actually wanted all those children or was forced into her situation by religion and a high libido husband In either case it wore her out and I think she came to regret imposing all these fairly strange people on the world.It seems to be unacceptable in much polite company to point out that the urge to procreate is as necessary to constra The Selfish Gene PoolMy mother had six live births The eggs didn t get any better as they went on Neither did the quality of family life I don t know if she actually wanted all those children or was forced into her situation by religion and a high libido husband In either case it wore her out and I think she came to regret imposing all these fairly strange people on the world.It seems to be unacceptable in much polite company to point out that the urge to procreate is as necessary to constrain as any other I think this is Lessing s point The desire for children, for a family life filled with one s offspring and the emotional satisfaction of their presence is as subject to excess, perversion, and rationalisation as any other Let s face it there are no good reasons to produce children They are expensive, emotionally and physically exhausting, destructive of the relationships which produced them, a continuing drain on the world s including the grandparents limited resources, and they, of course, are likely to contribute to an indefinite extension of this situation into an infinite future.And all that is the best case scenario Nature and nurture combine forces not infrequently to produce people who actually don t contribute an iota to the world s happiness quotient The odds are that thechildren one has thelikely there will be a genetic, psychological, or behavioural defect in the bunch There are orders of magnitudehomicidal criminals than potential Nobel laureates in the world As I said the eggs don t get any better Neither does their care.Neither happiness, nor any other sort of fulfilment is an inalienable right of any human being The pursuit of happiness may be sanctioned by law and democratic tradition, but this is merely license to invent fantasies which are almost always Ill conceived and require the sacrifice of others in order to be achieved They are the stuff of neuroses, economic externalities, and inevitable disappointments Pursuing happiness particularly by creating a large family is a mug s game The only winners are psychiatrists, self help gurus, and divorce lawyers And, although smug, none of them are likely to be happy either.I m betting that if transhumanism ever really becomes a thing, the machines will be savvy enough to eliminate reproduction entirely This is a story about a woman who gives birth to a troll.It is neither charming nor delightful.It reminded me of Peter the Great, although he didn t give birth to a troll.You know he founded the City of St.Petersburg and designed it to have lots of canals because the Dutch were the most modern nation and they had lots of canals though naturally it wouldn t have been expressed like that, perhaps he would have said that his new city required an appropriate transport infrastructure to meet the ne This is a story about a woman who gives birth to a troll.It is neither charming nor delightful.It reminded me of Peter the Great, although he didn t give birth to a troll.You know he founded the City of St.Petersburg and designed it to have lots of canals because the Dutch were the most modern nation and they had lots of canals though naturally it wouldn t have been expressed like that, perhaps he would have said that his new city required an appropriate transport infrastructure to meet the needs of an Imperial capital and to so future proof it against the inevitable challenges of the 1720s Then he founded a Kunstkammer a collection of curiosities, this you can still visit at your leisure in exchange for a small sum of money and see such odd things as the skeleton of an eight legged sheep in life according to the reconstruction it only had six, two of the legs were undescended, which I imagine was pretty uncomfortable In addition to this there are lots of deformed babies picked in jars, on some days an extra chamber is opened where in exchange for a littlemoney one can see evendeformed babies Some are simple to describe just conjoined, and unable to survive in anno domini 1713 or whenever precisely it was, the rest are just much weirder Lessing here takes that kind of idea that there is human variation that we see around us and we are used to, but that there is also a degree of variation that we maybe know about like say the so called Elephant Man which is a little beyond our comfort zone and then if that can exist then why not something else, much nastier and stranger in fact a troll or something very much like it.Reading this story again I noticed that it took a long time until the fifth, the troll child of the married couple came into the story, a third of the way and then that as pregnancy which as you might expect is unpleasantly trollish.Given the long slow build up of couple formation, dwelling acquisition, family breeding, I might be tempted to believe that Madame Lessing initially was minded to write somethingconventional but then decided to move off at a tangent Nor do I think I would have pegged this as the work of a nobel prize winning author, yet at the time there is an impressive ease and grace in which she manages the timeline from the late 1960s to late 1980s without awkwardness or any sense of clumsy, abrupt jumps.The story ends with the fifth child the troll one an adolescent, the mother we experience the story mostly from her point of view not so much frightened by the child and what it might do so much as accepting that he is capable of any violent act.Through this troll child Lessing toys with the idea of a literal criminal recidivism, not a criminal under class, but a criminal under species, genetically asocial, satisfied and aroused through violence.Perhaps the long build up with its careful class details sharpens the eventual threat of how a simple desire to fill a big house full of children can be destroyed through some genetic reversion to the mean, bringing forth not simply the Neanderthal or Denisovian hidden in our genes but something far bleaker.Certainly walking up the road even in sunlight I was extra jumpy when I heard unexpected sounds on the other side of the hedge.Uncanny, unheimlich Hey, ya know that ugly devil baby in arms in that one impressionable scene in Passion of the Christ Yeah, well, he s here, here in the middle of this taut, mesmerizing novella, growing up and ripping his innocent family to shreds.Well, he says Hi. This novel was disturbing on so many levels It was supposed to have started out with this great couple who had all these wonderful family ideals, until the fifth child came along who was really tough to take and basically a commentary on society s reaction to such a different child However, I never saw the couple as having a great marriage The only testament to any sort of greatness I guess would be their coupled desire to have a lot of children Simply because their house was constantly fi This novel was disturbing on so many levels It was supposed to have started out with this great couple who had all these wonderful family ideals, until the fifth child came along who was really tough to take and basically a commentary on society s reaction to such a different child However, I never saw the couple as having a great marriage The only testament to any sort of greatness I guess would be their coupled desire to have a lot of children Simply because their house was constantly filled with free loaders, didn t imply to me that their family was so great.And when the fifth child came along, where was everyone Not only where the parents willing to throw this child away, but everyone suddenly disappeared right when they could have used some support This book is a horrible example of family.The other main thing that bothered me was the parents conclusion toward the end of the book that their fifth child s nature was due to some sort of latent paleolithic genes They kept referring to how he was a caveman in all seriousness, this is what they thought They also equated this cavemanness with not being human so, in effect, to them, early humans, weren t human at all They constantly thought of their child as not human I thought perhaps this was written before autism was really heard of, but it was written in 1988 This kid seemed to have a classic case of autism and, instead of seeing specialist after specialist to get him help, the parents just succumbed to his tyranny in their home Readers, beware of novella s they might look short, but their stories can haunt you for days Harriet and David Lovatt s life couldn t be happier a good marriage, a big house perfect for hosting parties, and four healthy and charming children Sure, it s a lot of work for a couple both 26 years old, but this is the life they dreamed off Yet when Harriet gives birth to the fifth child, Ben, every happy dream disappears Neanderthal Ben is too strong for his age, always screams, and the little Readers, beware of novella s they might look short, but their stories can haunt you for days Harriet and David Lovatt s life couldn t be happier a good marriage, a big house perfect for hosting parties, and four healthy and charming children Sure, it s a lot of work for a couple both 26 years old, but this is the life they dreamed off Yet when Harriet gives birth to the fifth child, Ben, every happy dream disappears Neanderthal Ben is too strong for his age, always screams, and the little emotion he shows is violent and cruel.As Ben grows up, Harriet slowly start to doubt herself who or what gave she birth tooThe trouble is, you get used to hell, said Harriet After a day with Ben I feel as if nothing exists but him As if nothing has ever existed I suddenly realize I haven t remembered the others for hoursYes the mother compares her baby to hell This might not be the horror you expected , but the family s reaction to Ben is both horrifying and painfully realistic While her husband wants to lock Ben away, Harriet wants to keep him home yet that decision might causeharm than good But what is wrong with Ben You want to pick sides, but Doris Lessing cruelly leaves the decision about Ben s nature up to us This reminded me of Rosemary s Baby not because Ben is the anti Christ but because both books feature mothers slowly losing control of their life thanks to a child.In both stories, this loss of control leads to a bitter ending, but in The Fifth Child it sheartbreaking,tragic than terrifying The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but is the hell real, or just a mother s fear A judgement of society I love horror stories that haunt you like that If such a book sounds appealing, I say pick this up and decide for yourself what s going on although the scene in the Children s institution might change that 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 brutalityHarriet and David Lovatt, parents of four children, have created an idyll of domestic bliss in defiance of the social trends of late s 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 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 She felt rejected by him They had always loved to lie here feeling a new life, greeting it She had waited four times for the first little flutters, easily mistaken but then certain the sensation that was as if a fish mouthed out a bubble the small responses to her movements, her touch, and even she was convinced her thoughts But what about me I ve been shot Go on without me, save yourselves Ooh aah it hurts, like a spoon or a papercut that irritates your mind into the beyond Listen, She felt rejected by him They had always loved to lie here feeling a new life, greeting it She had waited four times for the first little flutters, easily mistaken but then certain the sensation that was as if a fish mouthed out a bubble the small responses to her movements, her touch, and even she was convinced her thoughts But what about me I ve been shot Go on without me, save yourselves Ooh aah it hurts, like a spoon or a papercut that irritates your mind into the beyond Listen, take this review from my pocket over my frozen heart Give it gasps I don t have much time Don t let it bash anyone else over the head with it s magazine article case study depthless void of empty characterizations that zip along like the latest autotuned hit to the next check on a form Why the flipping hell did they HAVE to have six to ten kids Ten if someone was suspected to think the original six was too many People who were essential to foot the bill, naturally Lovey dovey eyes that see into a shiny mirror Don t let the constantly pregnant wife and her automatically possessive husband suck you into their weeks long Easter house parties of freeloaders hitched to their shag carpet ride on daddy s money and her mommy s retirement time The glow of brand new furniture under layers of visiting butt sweat and baby vomit Poor Ben was born into the dreams of spit out and consume Poor Ben calls himself Poor Ben He must have heard someone say it It is getting life off on someone else s foot He must have seen something, sensed something to have kicked and screamed with a This is wrong and not ask for better I said better but there was nothing else here He did come from a family who expected gloating contentment of the variety of I really couldn t give two shits Housewife stuff if you were really angry about the sexual revolution For no good reason People were doing it and yeah I was researching for a period drama about issues I saw a whir of ugly faces in a stream of going through the motions of this is the dream Kill me before they get to tupperware parties The boredom nearly did it Their hopes meant nothing to me What do they have to lose So the wife mother Harriet collects Ben out of the institution he is stuck in to die It s like when your dog is going to live on a farm somewhere with room to run without the room to run part or the farm It s cold as the clinical shit baby Ben is covered in when Harriet lays her brooding the egg laying definition on him I didn t know, I didn t think I don t want to know, I don t want to think It all happened so fast of and this happens next boringly flippant narration The four kids whisper together They were cute babies to show off five pages ago We want Ben to be gone Ben means nothing but an obstacle An object of stone for their unfeelings The side of the lucky to be born under a better sign, before the difficult pregnancies gotdifficult No body really knew what they wanted I didn t know the kids Theirs were a blurred face of get on the next bus out and marry the first person you see They will all speak in the language of The Fifth Child that is whining or bragging grunts of hear what you expect to hear before anyone has said a word The only difference in Harriet is that she turns her head when what she expected to hear is not what she had heard, though she is still afraid to look that s important and doesn t live They weren t a family at all Harriet may be a woman too weak to be good enough for a child like Ben The other children may have felt unsafe in their own homes I read a baby locked behind bars in a lonely room until he became the snarling animal in the corner they bought him for sight unseen Yeah, there s a story in there and it kills me But I didn t know them anythan the passing story related third hand about a man in Fla who fucked his wife into fourteen kids he would yell at her Flossie for back room sex with a house full of people She dies and the fourteen kids go to the orphanage The next wife gets four kids The Fifth Child knows these people as well as that It s creepy and sad and about complete strangers Shouldn t there bethan passing judgement on strangers to this It s not an issue or product of the times when it is your life Maybe that kind of heartless removal speaks to others in a societal morse code I can t understand Although a disturbing number of people on the review sites read this as a book about an evil little baby boy I guess the message anvils missed them, somehow I don t get anything out of reading shit like that from strangers on the Internet either I don t want it That kind of thing kills me and I have no letters to home about that That s so lonely Harriet sees Ben and translates a monster stare looking for others like him Where s the dying breath to understand