Sunday, 1 June 2014

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing **Review**

The Fifth Child
Series: None
Pages: 160
Publisher: Paladin
Release date: (My edition) 1989
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

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Goodreads synopsis:
The married couple in this novel pull off a remarkable achievement: They purchase a three-story house with oodles of bedrooms, and, on a middle-class income, in the '70s, fill it to the brim with happy children and visiting relatives. Their holiday gatherings are sumptuous celebrations of life and togetherness. And then the fifth child arrives. He's just a child--he's not...
Having previously read two of Doris Lessing's books – her first, The Grass is Singing, and her last, Alfred and Emily, I'd been thinking it was time to pick something from between the two, especially since her sad passing earlier in the year.
I've recently been staying in London, and decided to go for a walk to browse the bookshops on Charing Cross road during the week (especially as I'd finished my book earlier that day), and this was the first book that caught my eye, despite it being less than 200 pages long! It was almost like it was waiting for me, which considering the story, I now find a little unsettling!

My initial impression of the story was a really positive one. I enjoyed how it was written, and loved getting to know David and Harriet and their ever-expanding family, spending most of their time together in the large family house.
There were, however, cracks in the apparently perfect foundations. David and Harriet want to start a family – they want four, five, six kids or more, but they haven't thought about how they're going to pay for it, just how happy they'll be.
They immediately start on a family. And not long after the first baby arrives, they're expecting another. And so it goes on until Harriet finds herself pregnant for the fifth time. This time it's different; Harriet is forever uncomfortable, fighting an energetic baby that seems to be growing far too fast for the pregnancy. It's clear from before the baby is even born that he will be a handful, but none of them are prepared for the effect it will have on the entire family.

The story from this point on was both starkly realistic and disturbing, but surreal and harrowing. The surreal element of the story is subtle, so that it still fits into the real world, but at the same time, doesn't quite fit properly – like a warped puzzle piece that has to be forced into place. We know that the fifth child is strange, that he doesn't quite fit, maybe even that he's not quite human, but this is never explicitly confirmed.
Just like Harriet, I felt weary of and anxious around this child, feeling both sorry for him and frightened of what he might do.

This was in no way an easy read, but I'm glad that I picked it up. It was full of powerful images, subtly disturbing events and a fantastic mixture of characters. If you're already a fan of Doris Lessing, or fancy giving her stuff a go, I would recommend this as one of your first reads.


Sherwin said...

Great review! Thanks for posting!

Michelle Scott said...

Kudos for reading her books! I tried to get through The Golden Notebook, but just couldn't do it. Maybe I'd like one of her other books instead. I always felt like I should read something of hers.

Dani Cotton said...

Michelle, I definitely think you should start with Alfred and Emily, which was her last book. It was part fiction and part non-fiction. It was a long time ago that I read it, but if I remember correctly, the first half is what would have happened to her parents if the war hadn't happened, and then what actually did happen to them because of the war.
It's really good.

The Golden Notebook is one I've not tackled yet, but I know it's a lot longer and heavier than her other books.
This wasn't an easy read, but it was good. I'm going to be looking out for copies of her other books, and I'll pick them up as I spot them, like I did with this one :) xx

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