Saturday, April 05, 2008

Reading - The Fifth Child

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

Harriet and David, both conservative, old-fashioned and out of step with the liberated '60s, meet in London and know immediately that they are meant to marry. They buy a white elephant of a house in the suburbs and begin to fill its many bedrooms with children. Smugly determined to create a happy family, they unashamedly sponge off David's father and exploit Harriet's mother as an unpaid nanny. The first four children are adorable, but when Harriet becomes pregnant for the fifth time, she realizes that this baby is different. Painfully active in the womb, newborn Ben seems more like a monster than child; Harriet thinks he is a throwback to humanity's primitive forebears. Howling and raging, enormously strong, Ben inspires fear and horror. After he strangles two pets and menaces his siblings, David sends him away to an institution. Harriet is compelled to bring him home, but his presence irrevocably destroys family harmony.

Harriet's fear grows as she struggles to love and care for the child, finding herself faced with a dark sub-continent of human nature, unable to cope.

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