The Fifth Child, by Doris Lessing

Another one I've read a long time ago and always remembered: this has Harriet and David, blissfully married with four children, encountering what seem to be insurmountable problems when their fifth child, Ben, is born and seems to be far from normal.

What I remembered about this book was the descriptions of the household before Ben arrived, which sounded paradisical: a huge house, a garden where the children could disappear and play, loads of people coming for Christmas and Easter, and always staying longer than they'd expected, lots of conversation, laughter and friendship, and the television hardly ever turned on. I remember thinking that Anne Barlow's house was like this, or possibly Matthew and Fiona's.

Things change when Ben turns up and what's good is that there's no real explanation ever given for exactly what's wrong with Ben, and you're never exactly sure whether the book is meant to be "true" or whether it's somehow meant to be metaphorical. At one stage, David and Harriet (and the extended family) decide that Ben is simply too much to handle, and he's taken away. Harriet eventually gives in and goes to rescue him: but the picture painted of the institution where Ben's been kept is pretty horrific, and I'm not sure whether such places actually exist (I guess if they did then there wouldn't be much publicity about them).

Rather unexpectedly, the book has a sort of happy-ish ending - or at least, it's not completely disastrous. I liked it a lot.

Completed : 26-Aug-2012

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