Book Thoughts: The Fifth Child



“I hated writing it,” said Doris Lessing. ”It was sweating blood. I was very glad when it was done. It was an upsetting thing to write – obviously, it goes very deep into me somewhere.” –Doris Lessing

Meet Ben. 


“He was a squat, burly little figure, with a big head, the yellow stubble of his course hair growing from the double crown of his head into the point low on his heavy narrow forehead. He had a flattish flaring nose that turned up. His moth was fleshy and curly. His eyes were like lumps of dull stone.”

He is Harriet and David’s fifth child. Harriet and David are a happy couple whose only wish is to have a big family. The more the better. If they had their way they would cram every one of their rooms with their offspring. All goes according to plan until Harriet’s fifth pregnancy starts presenting it’s own batch of complications. Then little Ben is born, a baby more alien looking than human, and overnight Harriet and David’s world gets turned upside down.

When I read the blurb for this book I expected horror on the scale of Rosemary’s baby, hair raising, goose-bump inducing terror, and while it did have those moments this books is not that type of terror.

It’s a psychological horror that preys on unspoken fears. It makes you understand that so much of our lives is really a 50/50 toss up. You can plan and make list till you run out of paper, but you can never fully be in control of what life throws your way, and we humans don’t like knowing that.

“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.”

Then there is Ben who never really had a chance. From the moment his mother gave birth to him, he was dubbed a freak. Therefore, he is never treated like a human being by anyone, including his parents. Ben is a sort of stand in for the different, the strange, the awkward. The people who are viewed as the “lesser” in society. The lesser that no one cares about, no one wants to look at, no one wants to admit there is something wrong with, or that they may need help, because acknowledging that means looking at the problem, and God forbid dealing with the problem. However, Ben is not a problem he is a person, yet he is constantly being dehumanized to the point that everyone really does believe he’s another species.

“…she could see Ben, standing rather apart from the crowd, staring at the camera with his goblin eyes, or searching the faces in the crowd for another of his own kind.”

I’ll admit Ben doesn’t make you think warm fuzzy feelings. He is often equated to not just looking like a goblin, but acting like one too.

“Grunting with satisfaction, he tore the raw chicken apart with teeth and hands, pulsing with barbaric strength.”

And let me tell you that’s not even the most disturbing thing he does. Moreover, that doesn’t excuse actually treating him like a troll or goblin.

This is a hard book to dissect. I’m not sure who I sympathize with more. Harriet and David or Ben. Most of the time it’s with Ben because despite his constant dehumanization, he is human, a child at that, and no child deserves to be hated, much less by his family. However, I do sympathize a bit with his parents because raising children is not easy, not to mention a child like Ben who is far from a walk in the park, but I don’t condone their treatment of him ever.

Also, despite their Harriet and David’s cherry demeanor they’re not very likable. They want to have a huge family and that’s fine if you can support your kids and your lifestyle, than to each their own. However, they can’t. They are constantly in both financial and physical need, and their parents are forced to bail them out. They’re selfish and don’t seem to care that their choices effect more than themselves.

Despite the disturbing subject matter, this was an easy read. I would have finished it in a day, unfortunately I was hit with a migraine that made reading painful. It is haunting and scary, but not in the way I was expecting. There is a sequel which I might check out, but I think I prefer to leave this ending the way is


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