The Fifth Child

by Doris Lessing | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0586089039 Global Overview for this book
Registered by LeishaCamden of Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on 6/1/2007
Buy from one of these Booksellers: | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon DE | Amazon FR | Amazon IT |
26 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by LeishaCamden from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Friday, June 1, 2007
From the front cover:

'It is scary, engrossing and radically disturbing ... as full of twists and shocks as any page turner could desire'

From the back cover:

I'd be willing to wager that if she never wrote another word, it would be 'The Fifth Child' - and not, say, her famous 'The Golden Notebook' - that ultimately confirmed Lessing's stature as a writer'

Harriet and David Lovatt realize their dream of a home, four children and a happy family life. But when Harriet becomes pregnant for the fifth time, she instinctively knows that *this* baby is different. Her fear grows as she struggles to care for the new-born child, finding herself faced with a dark sub-continent of human nature, unable to cope ...

'Compelling ... A terrifying tale ... This is the end of society as we know it sketched in the most economic and suggestive style ... A small, polished horror novel that will send frissons down the most hardened spine'
Washington Post Book World

'Beneath its clear surface, 'The Fifth Child' roils with several possible meanings ... Lessing's artistry here, as it has so often been in the past, remains provocative'

'Profoundly disquieting, not only for the story it tells but also for the message it conveys'
Publishers Weekly

'Memorably harrowing'
Kirkus Reviews'

This is a paperback copy from Paladin Books, published in 1989. It is a 'special overseas edition' apparently. That explains why it only has American quotes on the cover. Stupid. It has a different cover than the one pictured.

I read this book in Norwegian years ago, sometime in the early nineties, I think. I don't remember very much of the plot, but I do remember that it had a profound impact on me, I remember it as a very powerful novel. The plot is pretty simple anyway - the perfect family is torn apart when a fifth child is born who doesn't fit in with the rest of the family. How far can and should a mother go to protect and ultimately save one of her children, and at what cost to the rest of them?

I got this book at a flea market at Grünerløkka elementary school in Oslo on Saturday, May 5th, 2007.

Journal Entry 2 by LeishaCamden from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Thursday, October 11, 2007
I have another copy on my TBR list - or rather, 'to be reread' - when I've read that I will probably post some slightly more useful review here. :-)

Watch this space ... :-)

*** November 4th: see below ...

Actual cover design:

Journal Entry 3 by LeishaCamden from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Thursday, October 11, 2007
The book has been offered as a ray on the forum. Maybe a ring, we'll see how it turns out. Here's the forum thread:

Participants so far (order may be changed & new readers added):

sota48, Hokksund, Norway (ships anywhere) DONE!
asa-swe, Karlstad, Sweden (ships anywhere) DONE!
Gealach, Saltsjöbaden, Sweden (ships within Europe) DONE!
pulcherrima, Brabrand, Denmark (ships within Europe) DONE!
Cinnamon234, Turku, Finland (ships within Europe) DONE!
Sobergirl, Turku, Finland (ships anywhere?) DONE!
Marko167, Basel, Switzerland (ships anywhere) DONE!
kizmiaz, Lisbon, Portugal (ships within Europe) DONE!
conto, Lisbon, Portugal (ships within Europe) DONE!
Maria-Nunes, Lisbon, Portugal (ships anywhere) DONE!
Fantasma, Carnaxide, Portugal (ships within Europe) DONE!
boirina, Areia, Portugal (ships anywhere, prefers within Europe) DONE!
Ftarazu, Ovar, Portugal (ships within Europe) DONE!
franaloe, Den Burg, the Netherlands (ships anywhere) DONE!
ana-b, Gouda, the Netherlands (ships anywhere) DONE!
maju30, Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany (ships anywhere) ASKED TO BE SKIPPED!
Gahan, Piacenza, Italy (ships anywhere) DONE!
madmadge, Bournemouth, UK (ships within Europe) ASKED TO BE SKIPPED!
soffitta1, Harwich, UK/Prague, Czech Republic (ships within Europe) DONE!
LauraLeterBoxer, Gourock, UK (ships anywhere) DONE!
Kerriou, Swansea, UK (ships within Europe) ASKED TO BE SKIPPED!
thursoexile, Newry, UK (ships anywhere?) SKIPPED
yorkshire-lass, Maidstone, UK (ships anywhere) DONE!
helfena, Gothenburg, Sweden (ships anywhere) DONE!
klaradyn, Cape Town, South Africa (ships anywhere) ASKED TO BE SKIPPED!
bearyfriend, Garden City, Singapore (ships anywhere) SKIPPED
katayoun, Tehran, Iran (ships anywhere) ASKED TO BE SKIPPED
UnwrittenLibra, Amherst, USA (ships anywhere) DONE!
rednumbertwo, Halifax, Canada (ships within North America) DONE!
mrsgaskell, Winnipeg, Canada (ships anywhere but prefers within North America) <-- BOOK IS HERE
PokPok, Vista, USA (ships anywhere but prefers within US) ASKED TO BE SKIPPED DEC21ST-07. CHECK ANYWAY WHEN THE TIME COMES. ;-)
lauraloo29, Edmonton, Canada (ships anywhere, but prefers outside Canada :-)
silvia-pco, Murtosa, Portugal (ships within Europe)

LESEHEST, Trondheim, Norway (ships anywhere) ... maybe? :-)

Ideally, back to me eventually.

(The book is scheduled to make a bit of a detour on its North American leg, in order to fulfil UnwrittenLibra's wish to have the book arrive from 'someplace good and exotic'. :-)

Journal Entry 4 by LeishaCamden from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Sunday, November 4, 2007
I reread this book recently, October 17th through 19th.

As I mentioned above I read this book years ago when it was first published. After such a long time I didn't remember that much of it, just the basic plot, and how eerie it was - so realistic and yet so ... 'out there'. Rereading it now I realized that I had misremembered parts of it - for instance I recalled Ben, the eponymous fifth child, as being quite a bit younger than the others, not really a part of the 'sibling group' made up of the first four but born somewhat later. This turned out to actually be completely wrong. Interesting, as it colored my interpretation of the story quite a bit.

I basically had completely different feelings about the book this time around compared to the first time I read it, when I felt very sorry for Harriet and David and everything they go through trying to keep their family together. But this time - and I guess this is a sign that I have matured over the years and now generally see 'the bigger picture' rather than just a situation in isolation - my feelings towards them became negative almost immediately and I could never fully sympathize with them at any point because of this. I do realize that in the period when the story is set - late 60s through the 70s to the early 80s - things were different. But I couldn't really ... take that in, or whatever ... I couldn't free myself from my feelings and beliefs based on how the world is now. My points:

Harriet and David are so desperate to have the perfect family, an ideal family life, with happy doting parents and lots and lots of kids, and they feel that this is what everyone wants if only they would admit it. I resent very strongly this supposition - about anything - that what I claim to want is not really what I want, I'm just saying it. As if people can read my mind and know me better than I know myself. That is utterly false and very few things provoke me so deeply. Plus the fact that I for one absolutely do NOT want this perfect life that H & D are struggling for, in fact I find the thought of it - being a stay at home mom with no hope of getting a job for lord knows how many years and five kids running around - pretty much awful. One kid, maybe, two, maybe - but 'as many as we get'?? Hellish IMO.

I wonder if we are supposed to feel bad for Harriet with her health problems and weariness. I really do wonder because I'm not sure that the author intends us to do so. If she does, then in my case she fails miserably ... I can't bring myself to feel a shred of sympathy for the woman who brings her failing health and exhaustion on herself with her incessant breeding.

And that brings me to what immediately stuck in my craw about these characters. The idea that their perfect family must be large and with lots of children, and that they must produce these children themselves. Take all the babies that come, and breed, breed, breed. I find this idea so utterly repugnant that I can hardly express it. Yes, the world was different back then, I know that, but I can't force my feelings to take that into account. We as a species are killing our biosphere with overpopulation - sure, I know all about the climate crisis, world poverty, etc, but what it all boils down to is that we are too many, it's that simple. When I hear about people who have twelve kids, people who 'receive all the babies God sends them', etc ... it just makes me sick to my stomach. I want to punch their lights out ... or better yet, take them on a little tour, maybe, to show them what overpopulation is doing to this planet. Of course they all have excuses - it's just us, of course we realize that not everyone can do this, but where's the harm in just us doing it. This is the classic rant of the Western world today - everyone thinks they're special, and everyone wants the exception 'just for them'. But if a rule doesn't apply to everyone, then it applies to no one.

If someone wants a dozen children, then the only decent and moral thing to do is to adopt. Sure, have a couple biological ones, one or two. But to just keep breeding and breeding with no thought of limiting oneself ... that is so wrong on so many levels. I really think it shouldn't be allowed.

Reading this book this time around made me think thoughts that were completely different to what I was thinking the first time. It was very interesting. I'm really looking forward to hearing what thoughts it will inspire in other readers.

Finally, in my defense, if necessary ;-), I would like to add the following ... that I am an only child, that my parents needed longterm and for my mother very painful medical treatment in order to have me, that upon discovering that they would have no more children discussed adoption, but decided against this because my father felt that he would not be able to love an adopted son or daughter as much as he loved me, his biological daughter. I believe one hundred percent that he was completely wrong in his belief on this point, and I would have loved to have a Korean-born little sister today. :-) (This was the late 70s when the vast majority of children adopted by Norwegian couples came from Korea.) I am completely convinced that when it comes to parenthood, breeding and adoption, nurture trumps nature 99 out of a 100 times. And the last 1%, the parents who genuinely cannot love their adopted child as they do their biological ones - these people should never be parents at all. I know my father and I know that he would have loved and cared for any child given him to raise equally. It's a pity for my whole family that he didn't know himself well enough at that time.

Journal Entry 5 by LeishaCamden from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Sunday, November 4, 2007
The book will be going with me today to the Oslo meetup this afternoon where I will release it into the care of its second reader, the first on the list, sota48.

Future readers: please sign your name, with location, on the title page of the book. I signed my name today. It'll be great to be able to see where the book has been like that. :-)

The book may also be travelling with some postcards as souvenirs of its journey - if so, then please pass these on with the book, and feel free to add one yourself.

Released 15 yrs ago (11/4/2007 UTC) at To the first on the list in by hand, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases



sota48 got this book at the Oslo meetup today, so now its extensive travels have begun. :-) I am so excited to get the responses from all the places this book will travel to. Maybe one day it will make its way home to me ... !

Happy trails, little book!!

Journal Entry 7 by wingsota48wing from Hokksund, Buskerud fylke Norway on Sunday, November 4, 2007
I got this from LeisheCamden this evening. As I'm first in a veeeery long line to read this novel, I'll get down to it right away so as not to keep you all waiting longer than necessary.

Journal Entry 8 by wingsota48wing from Hokksund, Buskerud fylke Norway on Friday, November 9, 2007
I have now read the book and I am sitting here trying to put into words what I feel. And I think the word I want is "disturbing". I found this a very disturbing and upseting novel.

First of all I didn't much care for Harriet and David and their views on what a family is. It seems to me they have this idea that if you have a large house and lots of children and fill the house to the roof with friends and relatives on festive occations, then life beautiful. And they can't even afford it! From the very first day they are dependant on David's father paying for the house and generally coughing up every time they are in a tight spot. And all the relatives they are having around for Xmas and Easter; they don't even like them. All the time they feel they are being criticised for the choices they are making, for the way they are living their lives. No small wonder! They are living a dream, an idea they feel is superior to everyone elses way of life. And at the core of this ideal dream life are the children. All beautiful, all well behaved. So when one child comes along and does not fit into this mould, their world falls apart. We (the readers) are given the first hint of this when Harriet's sister has a child with Downs. Kept under a rug at her mother's lap so the family won't have to look at her. What kind of family attitude is that!

Then Ben comes along. I will not tell much about him. You will want to read that for yourselves. Suffice to say that the way the family reacts to him is to me so utterly repugnant that I find it difficult to express.

At the end, though, I admit I took a better liking to Harriet. She stands up for Ben and tries her best. Perhaps finally she realizes that a family is not a dream, a family are individual people, and you stick by them come what may. To me family is togetherness, not only in happy times, but when difficulties are looming ahead, the family is where you find the strength and comfort to get through.

We should bear in mind, though, that what happened to Ben is still happening to children today. Very disturbing.

I liked the book very much. It is the kind of novel that stays with you.

I am sending it on to asa-swe in Sweden tomorrow. With postcard from Hokksund and all!

Journal Entry 9 by asa-swe from Karlstad, Värmland Sweden on Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Landed safely in my mail box today. Will read it asap.
Thank you!! Looking forward to experience this one!

Journal Entry 10 by asa-swe from Karlstad, Värmland Sweden on Tuesday, November 13, 2007
This picture is from Karlstad - my town.

Easy to read, hard to put down!

Gripping and troubling, but toying whith alternatives, there realy weren't any.

Will send the book on as soon as I get Gealach's addy.

Journal Entry 11 by Gealach from Nacka, Södermanland Sweden on Thursday, November 15, 2007
The book arrived today! Thanks asa-swe! I'll try to finish it this weekend so I can pass it on in the beginning of next week

Journal Entry 12 by Gealach from Nacka, Södermanland Sweden on Thursday, November 22, 2007
Mailed to pulcherrima today!

Journal Entry 13 by pulcherrima from Tommerup Stationsby, Fyns Amt Denmark on Sunday, November 25, 2007
Arrived yesterday. I'm looking forward to reading it and reading your thoughts about it.

Journal Entry 14 by pulcherrima from Tommerup Stationsby, Fyns Amt Denmark on Sunday, December 2, 2007
This is a short but very strong novel which I really enjoyed reading. I think you get a really great impression of the main characters "bourgeois" way of living, and thereby my fascination of the way they dealt with the fifth child was enhanced. Their behaviour really triggered some ethical issues which resembled the thinking "Borderliners" by Peter Høegh made me aware of. I liked the way you don't really know whether you think keeping or getting rid off Ben was the best 1) for Ben, 2) for his mother, 3) the family, 4) society etc.
A really good book which has inspired me to read more of Lessing's writing (this was the first book I read by her, inspired by her 2007 Nobel Price).

LeishaCamden posed the question whether we should feel sorry of Harriet. I don't know if I ever felt genuinely sorry for her, but I did have sympathy with her because she did save Ben - which I think was the right thing to do. On the other hand, her way of dealing with the fact that Ben is different from her picture perfect dream world is very wrong - it is as if she is constantly denying that her long time aspiration is just an illusion. I think Harriet's last comment about living alone in the new house is ambiguous, but unfortunately I do not think that she has left her dream - I actually do not think that she and David will sell the house at all! I think it is too scary for them to be confronted with the real world - even though it is commented that David wants to move.

I will contact Cinnamon234 and pass on the book ASAP.

Journal Entry 15 by Cinnamon234 from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The book arrived today in Turku. Thank you LeishaCamden for organizing this ring and for pulcherrima for sending it to Finland.

I'll be reading this over the holidays.

Journal Entry 16 by Cinnamon234 from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Thursday, December 27, 2007
This was really interesting and intensive book. I had not read anything from Doris Lessing before but I would really like to read some more.

The story was good and what really intrigued me was the idea of this fifth child being alien. From some far away time, maybe Neanderthanlin.

This book also reminded me of an other book I have read years ago. That was the story of Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious' girlfriend Nancy. Her mother had written that book and I think that at least some of Nancy's problems originated from the early childhood drug treatment that was prescriped for her. So it came to my mind that maybe some of Ben's problems originated from those early days when he was not even born and when his mother was using some tranquillisers or something like that.

It was so sad how "difficult" children were treated back in 1970's (and most likely much later too). The institution where Ben was taken was unbelievable. And there probably are places like that in some countries even today :(

In any case an interesting book.

I will be giving this to Sobergirl tomorrow.

Journal Entry 17 by Sobergirl from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Friday, December 28, 2007
Now the book and all the beautiful postcards are with me!

Journal Entry 18 by Sobergirl from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Wednesday, January 2, 2008
This is the kind of book that will keep me awake,I read it quite fast (once I started i couldn't put it down) but the theme of the book is so disturbing to me i will think think think and not sleep very much or very well for a night or two, or three.

Instead of attaching a postcard to the package i will post a picture here from my hometown so all previous readers also can se what Turku looks like:

The Aura River and Theatre Bridge

Journal Entry 19 by Sobergirl from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Wednesday, January 9, 2008
The book will travel to Marko in Switzerland today!

Journal Entry 20 by marko167 from Sitges, Barcelona Spain on Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Arrived today. Will hopefully get around to this one this week.

Journal Entry 21 by marko167 from Sitges, Barcelona Spain on Thursday, January 31, 2008
Sorry to say I didn't enjoy this book at all. I found the whole premise unpleasant and although I finished the book quickly, I did not really enjoy a minute of it. No matter, if we all enjoyed the same books what a boring world we would live in.

I felt that although Lessing managed to keep the tension high she failed to make the characters seem real or enable one to feel any sympathy towards them.

I guess that if one was reading the book from a scholastic point of view then we may well find interest when comparing the attitudes ofthe characters towards modern youth and the media obsession with 'Teens out of control', however we would be forced to accept that nothing much has changed over time. As now we consider the youth that roams wild on our streets a menace, the same was felt in the 1980s (the origin of this book), the seventies, sixties, fifties and no doubt throughout history.

This was my second Lessing and I enjoyed the first so will keep myself open for more examples of her work (especially as she will be part ofthe Nobel spiral).

Journal Entry 22 by marko167 at BookRing in Book Ring, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases on Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Released 14 yrs ago (2/5/2008 UTC) at BookRing in Book Ring, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases



Off it flies to the land of bacalhao, Pasteis de Nata and Vinho Verde.

Journal Entry 23 by kizmiaz from Belém , Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Monday, February 18, 2008
Got it last Friday, thanks Marko167 and LeishaCamden. I still have a couple on the go but shouldn't take long.

Journal Entry 24 by kizmiaz from Belém , Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Well it was quite a good time I had reading this book.
I found the book to be totally addictive and could hardly put it down.
I didn’t sympathise with any of the characters and found most of David’s and Harriet’s attitudes either plain dumb or way too unconscious for the parents they were aiming to be (buying an enormous house and having a ton of children with no money of their own is not really the brightest thing to do, also imagining life will be a dream instead of a struggle is just too naïve, even for the late 60’s).
So why did I enjoy the book? I felt the whole story was one big sarcastic remark on society and moral patterns, a joke with a 133 page punch line. I may be totally off the mark but that was the only way I found this story to make sense, all the planning that went into having a big happy family, and sticking to “higher” moral values than their contemporaries led David and Harriet to a dead end, that was easily anticipated, their initial carelessness about the money needed to fund this big happy family turns into bitterness when the “beast” arrives and reveals every family member as they really are and not as David and Harriet fantasised them, they were only human after all.
Ben is one tough cookie, a spoilt brat that really never was spoilt, a hooligan and a bully with no one to kick around but his family, what’s wrong with him? I haven’t a clue, but all the characters were a bit odd in this book.
What would any of us do with a Ben around? I don’t know about you but I haven’t a clue, I could make my stand here on high moral ground (Harriet did when her sister had Amy) and then be just as lost as David and Harriet were. Maybe they didn’t make the right choices concerning Ben, but what were the right choices?
So I either hit it on the mark or missed it entirely but either way I enjoyed the book, and that’s what matters.
I’ll be passing it to conto soon.

Journal Entry 25 by conto from Lisboa (city), Lisboa (distrito) Portugal on Sunday, March 16, 2008
Here it is. I'm getting through one other ring and will then start on this one.
Thanks a lot kizmiaz!

Journal Entry 26 by conto from Lisboa (city), Lisboa (distrito) Portugal on Saturday, March 22, 2008
I liked this book a lot and it was a great first Doris Lessing for me. I must read some more from this author.
Having that said, I don't know if I'm able to put into words the reason I liked it so... I didn't try to sympathize with the characters or even to understand them and, for me, the whole thing is much more about contrasts than anything else, about the things we dream our life could be (whatever that may be) and how so many things besides our own will can interfere with it, sometimes those very same things we so earnestly wanted; and how we can or can not cope with them, the challenges it brigs us.
I didn't try to understand the characters (I don't have any children and never wanted very much to, so maybe that's why I didn't even tried; I just read along and kind of accepted the characters as they were described, not really trying to make them fit in my way of understanding the world).

Afterwards, what really amazed me, because I didn't have a clue, was to learn that there really are children like Ben or at least a lot like him (while I was reading the book, I just thought it to be some kind of metaphor or exaggeration at the very least). I was talking with my father's physiotherapist about this book and she told me about a child she attends to who is a lot like the described Ben, if not worst! It impressed me a great deal...

I already asked for Maria-Nunes' address and I guess I'll be able to send this book along next week.
Thanks a lot LeishaCamden for this great opportunity!

Journal Entry 27 by Maria-Nunes from Lisboa - City, Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Wednesday, April 9, 2008
It's just arrived.
I'll read it asap.

Journal Entry 28 by Maria-Nunes from Lisboa - City, Lisboa (cidade) Portugal on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I liked this book.
My opinion is much the same as "conto" as already expressed here, so I won't make a long JE.

This book is already on it's way to "Fantasma"

Journal Entry 29 by Fantasma from Carnaxide, Lisboa (distrito) Portugal on Sunday, April 27, 2008
The book was waiting for me when I arrived home on thursday and I took with me to this big holiday weekend at the beach and read it really fast.

It was quite difficult to understand that family, those people, and impossible to take sides. Sometimes I felt sorry for David and Harriet and understood that they just wanted to live life as they like it, other times they were unbearable, weird. The all family was weird, I believe. We are never told what reallu is the matter with Ben. It's not difficult to understand why a mother would feel that way about a son who "plagued" her throughout the all pregnancy, but I didn't understand why everyone took a dislike so big on him at his birth. As for how the story develops, it's hard to say what would be the right thing to do, destroying a family or fighting for a "strange" son.
I expected a more "final" ending, but maybe that's just me wanting to know it all :)

Thanks so much for sharing, LeishaCamden, it certainly is another book I wouldn't have read without BookCrossing.

I'll send the book ahead as soon as I've an address
(PM sent to silvia-pco on 27/4)
(silvia-pco asked to be skipped - PM sent to boirina on 30/4 and 02/05)

Instead of sending another Lisbon postcard, here is a picture of this beautiful city :o)

Journal Entry 30 by Fantasma from Carnaxide, Lisboa (distrito) Portugal on Monday, May 5, 2008
Mailed to boirina today.
I think you'll like the bookplate ;o)

Journal Entry 31 by boirina from Mallorca - Calvià, Illes Balears/Islas Baleares Spain on Tuesday, May 6, 2008
The book got here safely today. Thanks for sharing!

(ETA: The bookplate sounds familiar, yes it does!)

Journal Entry 32 by boirina from Mallorca - Calvià, Illes Balears/Islas Baleares Spain on Thursday, May 29, 2008
The book is on its way to Ftarazu. I haven't read it because I found another copy in a second-hand bookstore in Oviedo last week.

Journal Entry 33 by Ftarazu from Ovar, Aveiro Portugal on Tuesday, June 3, 2008
It arrived! It seems like a great book! I will try to be fast!

Journal Entry 34 by Ftarazu from Ovar, Aveiro Portugal on Wednesday, June 25, 2008
This was a weird book. From the beginning I couldn’t understand David and Harriet, to whom the important things in life were to have a huge house (like a hotel) and to have a lot of children, even if they didn’t have the money for all that. And then when Ben appeared, everything that looked like a dream life fell apart…I didn’t quite understand what was Ben’s problem and I for me it’s hard to imagine how the whole family was so light-hearted in sending him away. Only Harriet seemed to care about what would happen to him. So, in the end, I started liking Harriet character.
Thanks LeishaCamden for sharing. It will be sent as soon as I have an address.

Journal Entry 35 by franaloe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Friday, July 18, 2008
Wow! This book came with an impressive pile of postcards! Thanks for sending and sharing. This is going to be my first Doris Lessing book, and I'm really curious and looking forward to reading the book. However, my Mt TBR has not been so high as it is right now. I guess I just keep on reading!

Journal Entry 36 by franaloe from Utrecht, Utrecht Netherlands on Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Short story about a family that is too clearly falling apart. The parents do not feel understood, but I think there are very few people in the world that will understand them, no matter what time of the century they were born in...

I felt pity for their children, and the parents annoyed me. Still, for the story and the style, I did enjoy the book.

I am waiting for the address of ana-b so I can send the book on.
Thanks for sharing!

edit: book is on its way to ana-b

Journal Entry 37 by ana-b from Gouda, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Friday, August 29, 2008
The book has arrived this afternoon. Thanks for sending it.

Journal Entry 38 by ana-b from Gouda, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Saturday, September 27, 2008
What a compelling story. I could not put aside the book, it fascinated me. All through the story you're kept at a distance. I felt no sympathy or anything for the characters. Only Harriet and Paul made me feel some emotion, some sadness. The sentence that struck me most: it's the mother's fault. A classic I thing, from the 70s.

Journal Entry 39 by ana-b at Gouda, Zuid-Holland Netherlands on Thursday, October 2, 2008

Released 14 yrs ago (10/2/2008 UTC) at Gouda, Zuid-Holland Netherlands



The book is on its way to Italy.

Journal Entry 40 by Gahan from Ziano Piacentino, Emilia Romagna Italy on Thursday, October 9, 2008
The book is here.
First thing I placed a transparent cover on it because the original cover is very very worn out. It is more protected now.
I am going to start reading it as soon as I finish the current book (another ring).
Thank you ana-b for the postcard!

Journal Entry 41 by Gahan at By mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases on Monday, October 20, 2008

Released 14 yrs ago (10/20/2008 UTC) at By mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases



I joined this bookring because I had never read anything by Nobel Prize Doris Lessing.
The book is very well written and keeps the reader stick to the page. I was very curious to know what was going to happen in the end and found very interesting the explanation that Harriet gives to herself about Ben's nature.
As regards the characters sometimes I felt pity for them, sometimes I found them weird.
I do not feel like disagreeing with any of the comments above, they are all so true... but I especially agree with who said that whole story is a criticism on society and moral patterns.

madmadge asked to be skipped, I'm sending the book to soffitta1

Journal Entry 42 by wingsoffitta1wing from Ipswich, Suffolk United Kingdom on Wednesday, October 22, 2008
This arrived today in Coimbra, where I moved just under a month ago, so the book is back in Portugal! Just been reading all the postcards with the book, and will find a nice one to add. Halfway through another book, but will get reading this soon. I am a bit of a Lessing fan, so looking forward to this.

Am PMing LauraLeterBoxer now. (24 October)

I stayed up late last night to read this. It isn't an easy book to put down, not just because there are no chapters! A conservative family intends to have a big family, but Heather knows there is something wrong with her latest pregnancy. Her child is different, not like her other children. Heather doesn't realise how the fifth child will affect not only her life, but that of her family.
Sent at the end of October.

Journal Entry 43 by LauraLeterboxer on Thursday, November 6, 2008

I was not on campus for a few days last week, so did not receive this until Monday. I've been so busy, I've kept forgetting to post that I have received it. Thanks soffita 1 for sending. I'm looking forward to starting it this weekend.

25 January 2009

I read this back in November and didn't know what to make of it. I even considered reading it again. I searched the net for any analysis, but the closest I could get was a couple of interviews where Lessing talks about the book. I kept wondering what she was trying to say with this book, as she did portray this child as having characteristics that would indeed scare any normal family. At the same time, she portrayed him with some sympathy, and there was an underlying 'unrealness' that seemed to be a form of criticism of the parents. In her interviews, she mainly seemed to be exploring what it must be like to be an outsider.

I have spent the majority of my professional life working with children, young people and their families who have been excluded from society. Many of the young people's behaviour can be frightening, and it can sometimes be hard to get a sense of what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes they can have significantly poor early experiences of attachment, and it can be very difficult to reach them. In reading Lessing, I kept thinking of "We Need to Talk about Kevin". Did anyone else? I definitely think Shriver was exploring issues of attachment, but I'm less sure about Lessing. For one, attachment theory has developed and become more mainstream since 1988, and Lessing never mentions it in her interviews. Both mothers are portrayed as attempting to bond with their children, but in 'Kevin', the mother's ambivalence and resistance is much more pronounced. In Lessing, the lack of attachment is more squarely placed with Ben. I think it is too easy to blame families, and much more difficult to keep in mind the relentlessness of the day to day erosion of energy, confidence, perspective that can happen when families are struggling--though the vast majority of the families I worked with were also struggling with poverty, sometimes addiction, sometimes violence, sometime poor mental health, often for many generations.

I liked how Lessing made the characters sympathetic and unsympathetic, at the same time. Ben was sometimes scarey and sometimes pitiful. The mother sometimes selfish and sometime heroic. I am interested in the follow up, "Ben, In the World."

I've contacted the next person on the list a couple of times (perhaps the first didn't get through), and hope to send this on soon. Sorry for stalling the ring.

Journal Entry 44 by wingyorkshire-lasswing from Maidstone, Kent United Kingdom on Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Arrived safely with me this morning,thanks LauraLeterboxer. I've only got about 60 pages left to read on a book so I should be able to start this by tomorrow.

Journal Entry 45 by wingyorkshire-lasswing from Maidstone, Kent United Kingdom on Saturday, April 11, 2009
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. I can't say that I enjoyed it as it has left me feeling depressed and disturbed. It was well written but I found the characters difficult to empathise with, apart from maybe the other four children whose lives were torn apart by their parents and sibling, who didn’t have any control over how he was.
I’m glad I have had the chance to read it though as it’s good sometimes to get out of your comfort zone. I’m now going off to find something fluffy and light to read!

Journal Entry 46 by wingyorkshire-lasswing at By mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases on Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Released 13 yrs ago (4/14/2009 UTC) at By mail, A Bookring -- Controlled Releases



This will be in the post to helfena in Sweden this afternoon.

Journal Entry 47 by helfena from Stockholm, Stockholm Sweden on Friday, April 17, 2009
Got it in the mail today! Thank you, yorkshire-lass!

Journal Entry 48 by helfena from Stockholm, Stockholm Sweden on Monday, April 27, 2009
I'm so glad I didn't get this book earlier, when I was still pregnant with my now 5-month-old daughter. This is NOT something a pregnant woman should read! This was probably the ultimate timing for me to read it and have it really touch me without ruining my pregnancy with paranoid ideas. :) Also, Ben's development probably means more to me now when I know first hand what normal babies are like.

I think the part that affected me most was when Harriet was still pregnant and knowing that what grew inside her was monstrous. I read the book like Ben really was something supernatural and evil, even though my mind eventually opened to the possibility that he is just different, and that the family's reaction is exaggerated because he disturbs their idea of the perfect family.

The idea of having a child with cold, evil eyes and incredible strength is so disturbing I can't find words to describe it. A child that will actually murder at any given chance. It was a little too much for me NOT to read it like supernatural horror. But then it didn't really continue like that, and the reactions of doctors and teachers which are so frustrating for Harriet seems to suggest that he is just different within the realistic.

There is a line in this book which is especially disturbing to me, and I wonder if that's what was intended. David says something about Ben and Harriet exclaims "He's our child!" or something like that. Then David says "Maybe he's YOUR child, but certainly not MINE". She doesn't seem to react that much to this, but to me that means a great deal. Is he suggesting he suspects her of infidelity? If my husband said that to me, that's definitely what I would think. And that seems to me to be the death (not the end, in this case) of the relationship.

I just found out there is a sequel, "Ben, in the world". Don't really know what to feel about that... I really didn't expect it and I'm not sure if I want to read it... but still I feel I should, because I loved this book and want to know what else there is to know.

Oh, and the postcards, what a lovely idea!

I'll send this on as soon as I can. bearyfriend asked to be skipped and I'm now waiting for a reply from katayoun.

Journal Entry 49 by helfena from Stockholm, Stockholm Sweden on Monday, April 27, 2009
Oh, btw...

Bookcrossing Bookring for The Fifth Child

Journal Entry 50 by helfena from Stockholm, Stockholm Sweden on Friday, May 1, 2009
Package ready to travel to UnwrittenLibra, as katayoun also asked to be skipped.

Journal Entry 51 by UnwrittenLibra from Middleton, Wisconsin USA on Monday, May 25, 2009
Received it here in Baltimore, Maryland upon my move back home after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I read the postcards last night with my mom over dinner and really enjoyed meeting all of you through your postcards and getting to see your hometowns. I got 4 other books in the mail upon my arrival but I'll try to get to this one after the unpacking is done, and will definitely add in a postcard from Charm City USA before I read and let this one travel. Thanks everyone!

Journal Entry 52 by UnwrittenLibra from Middleton, Wisconsin USA on Monday, June 15, 2009
Finished it today at a Starbucks here in Baltimore.

What a strange little book. Not as enjoyable to me as The Memoirs of a Survivor (the one other Lessing I've read) but still interesting. Definitely noticing some literary themes/trends in Lessing's work. I hope to read more by her soon.

Journal Entry 53 by UnwrittenLibra from Middleton, Wisconsin USA on Monday, July 27, 2009
Mailed out today from Stevenson, Maryland.

Journal Entry 54 by rednumbertwo from Ottawa, Ontario Canada on Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Book arrived on Friday, and I read it over the August long weekend. I enjoyed it, but will post my thoughts when I have a bit more time to organize them.

Journal Entry 55 by wingrem_CJL-230711wing on Tuesday, September 15, 2009
This came to me via Matty at the Winnipeg Bookcrossing meet-up last night - thanks for dropping it off Matty and thanks for forwarding it on rednumbertwo.

I'm looking forward to reading this and it will be very soon since I have just completed my SIY reading challenge for the quarter which leaves me with a few weeks of free reading until the next session starts.

I (and my family) have thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the postcards included with the book - what a fantastic idea! Thanks everyone for sharing something of where you live.

Journal Entry 56 by wingrem_CJL-230711wing on Monday, September 21, 2009
Harriet and David Lovatt seem somewhat out of synch with other young adults of the sexually liberated sixties. They marry quickly and set out to achieve their idealised vision of a large happy family. And at first it appears that they have succeeded in making a life that matches their dreams. They find a large rambling house with an overgrown garden within commuting distance of London, and four children arrive in quick succession.

The Lovatts soon become the regular hosts for extended gatherings of family and friends at Christmas, Easter, and summer vacations. Everyone looks forward to gathering around their large family table. But this dream relies heavily on the support of others. David’s wealthy father provides regular financial support, and with each additional child they rely even more heavily on Harriet’s mother for household support. When Harriet’s sister gives birth to a child with Down’s syndrome, the first indications appear that this family has trouble accepting and adapting to life’s reality.

Soon, Harriet is pregnant for the fifth time, and probably due to exhaustion and a very active fetus, the pregnancy does not go well. Harriet begins to take sedatives regularly in order to quieten her unborn baby. When Ben is born, he is different than the other children, but doctors appear to consider him within the normal range. Has this child been affected by the sedatives his mother took during pregnancy, or has his development been affected by the lack of maternal love almost from conception? Is Ben just different or is he monstrous? His addition to the family affects everyone, and especially the fourth child, Paul. There are troubling developments,the injury of his brother's arm, the death of a visiting pet. Is it malicious, or does the child just not know his own strength? Is the family’s view of events coloured by the fact that they do not love him? Has the family not bonded with him because of Harriet’s reaction to the child?

Eventually, one set of grandparents finds an institution that will accept Ben, and he is sent there without his parents making any effort to check out this institution beforehand. They do not visit nor plan to. It is only after several months, prompted by guilt, that Harriet goes to see Ben. She does take Ben home immediately when she sees the conditions, but this seriously affects Harriet and David’s relationship. Ultimately, the other children ask to leave home, to attend boarding school or to live with grandparents. The family disintegrates because they were not able to accept one of theirs who is different. Ben is not an appealing child, even to the reader, but perhaps our view of him is also coloured by the reactions of his family. Is the fault solely with the mother as the doctor’s seem to think? I don't think so, because none of the family has taken to him. Can the Lovatts just not accept that life does not always match up exactly to the dream and that families need to adapt and rally round all their members, even those that don’t fit in well?

I enjoyed this book very much, even though it leaves you with a lot of questions. I was perhaps a little let down by the ending. It’s a disturbing and thought-provoking read, hard to put down. I alternately was repelled and felt sympathy for Ben, less sympathetic for his parents.

Thanks for organising this ring Leisha Camden. PokPok has confirmed that she'd like to be skipped so the book will be on its way shortly to lauraloo29.

Journal Entry 57 by LeishaCamden at Controlled Release, A Bookcrossing member -- Controlled Releases on Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Released 13 yrs ago (9/23/2009 UTC) at Controlled Release, A Bookcrossing member -- Controlled Releases


Journal Entry 58 by LeishaCamden from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Mistake ... !!! I accidentally wrote a controlled release note on this - entirely unintended, I clicked on the wrong link!! The book is still with mrsgaskell.

But I'll take this opportunity to thank all the participants very much for keeping the book moving and adding to its treasure trove ;-) and for all your wonderful JEs. Thank you all so much!! :-)

Journal Entry 59 by wingrem_CJL-230711wing at Bookring/Bookray, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- Canada on Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Released 13 yrs ago (9/23/2009 UTC) at Bookring/Bookray, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- Canada



This is on its way to lauraloo29 in Edmonton via Canada Post.

Journal Entry 60 by lauraloo29 from Edmonton, Alberta Canada on Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Arrived safe and sound today. I have another bookring before it, but I will keep the book moving. Thank you.

Journal Entry 61 by lauraloo29 from Edmonton, Alberta Canada on Friday, October 16, 2009
I finished this book last night. I, like some others, did not enjoy it. I hate when there are no chapters or nice breaks for me. It makes it hard to read.

I didn't have much sympathy for Harriet and David, but I did find it interesting that I decided that Ben was really that different. I don't want to say much to spoil the book, but I have been working with fairy tales the past few weeks and perhaps that is why. lol

The only thing that made me feel sympathetic towards Harriet was the extended family's reactions. Whether her dream was realistic or not, its always sad when you don't get the support from others.

This book should be on its way this week. I already have the next address. Thank you for sharing! (The book is getting a little fragile.)

Journal Entry 62 by silvia-pco from Murtosa, Aveiro Portugal on Sunday, November 1, 2009
It's here, safe and sound!

As lauraloo29 said, it is getting a little fragile. The cover is almost completely detached from the rest of the book. Would it be okay if I put a bit of glue on it, Leisha, so it won't fall off?

I'll try to pass it along as quickly as possible. Thanks for sharing!

Update (02.12.09) - It has been a month since I got this book, so I thought it would be nice to keep you updated. I haven't read it yet, but will try to do so and pass it on sometime during the next two weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Journal Entry 63 by silvia-pco from Murtosa, Aveiro Portugal on Thursday, December 31, 2009
I read it a while ago, but just now realized I haven't made a JE with my opinion yet.

Great, great book. It's scary in a way I never thought it could be. I got really involved in the story, particularly because of the way the sense of terror and fear grows as the plot develops.

While doing a bit of research on the book, I found out that Lessing wrote a sequel in 2000, Ben, In The World. Looking forward to read it!

The book is already packed and ready to be sent back on its way home; I'm planning on going to the post office this Monday.

Thanks for sharing!

Journal Entry 64 by LeishaCamden from Alna bydel, Oslo fylke Norway on Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The Fifth Child is back home ... !! :-D Actually it arrived about a week or so ago, but I've been forgetting to journal it - shame on me. :-(

Thank you so much to everyone who participated for keeping the ring moving this whole way, but more than that, for all your wonderfully thoughtful and interesting JEs. Reading the thoughts this book has inspired in people is just ... wow. What BookCrossing is really all about, IMO. :-)

And here are all the postcards the book's been travelling with. Quite a collection. Thanks again to everyone who took part in the ring, and a special thanks to silvia-pco for sending the book back home to me. :-)

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