Doralyn's Reviews > The Fifth Child

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
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May 02, 2008

it was ok
Read in April, 2008

This novel was disturbing on so many levels. It was supposed to have started out with this great couple who had all these wonderful family ideals, until the fifth child came along who was really tough to take (and basically a commentary on society's reaction to such a different child). However, I never saw the couple as having a great marriage. The only testament to any sort of greatness I guess would be their coupled desire to have a lot of children. Simply because their house was constantly filled with free-loaders, didn't imply to me that their family was so great.

And when the fifth child came along, where was everyone? Not only where the parents willing to throw this child away, but everyone suddenly disappeared right when they could have used some support. This book is a horrible example of family.

The other main thing that bothered me was the parents conclusion toward the end of the book that their fifth child's nature was due to some sort of latent paleolithic genes. They kept referring to how he was a caveman (in all seriousness, this is what they thought). They also equated this cavemanness with not being human (so, in effect, to them, early humans, weren't human at all). They constantly thought of their child as not human.

I thought perhaps this was written before autism was really heard of, but it was written in 1988. This kid seemed to have a classic case of autism and, instead of seeing specialist after specialist to get him help, the parents just succumbed to his tyranny in their home.
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02/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Lilianavale It was written in 1988 but it's set in th 60s...That's why doctors don't know much about the condition and many mental illnesses were not heard of back then.


Lilianavale And, the mother does take the child to at least 3 doctors and they all say he's physically fine so they can't do anything about it.


Jennifer Netto In reality there were many families who abandoned or cage them in their basements and treat them as outcast without actually understanding their medical conditions because doctors weren't aware of these things yet back then. But I must admit.. I felt sick reading the descriptions used in the thoughts of the characters over the child.


Robert Blenheim I like your review but I think you missed completely that it subtly showed the parents were blameworthy. All the negative things you pointed out about the story seemed deliberate and arguably its point. One thing I liked about the book was the 'sub-plot' that you didn't seem to pick up that showed an underlying story about the boy being victimized. The parents were perhaps the monsters. Doesn't that make this a better book?


Virginia Lazar I loved the book! It was beautifully written and made me ask questions on so many levels. Question about choices. I think it s a 5 stars book! We are here to rate a book not to unlike it because we are uncomfortable with the subject!
A great book teaches you things. And in my case, it really did!


Delia Agreed. I hated this book.


Robert Blenheim Delia wrote: "Agreed. I hated this book."

Why such hatred? And one star?? Sounds to me as if the book really worked you up emotionally. What's there to hate so much here?

Lessing knows how to write, and, though not perfect, I think this is a little gem of a novel.


message 8: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy I'm sure the author had heard of autism, but she was not writing a book about autism. She wrote a "what if...?" book, as a reader you have to grapple with the ideas she has predicated the book upon, not with what you know now. So you have to look at why the parents felt what they felt, and how they responded to this "alien troll-baby"; you can't say "oh, he must have been autistic" and write off his strangeness that way. That's kind of avoiding the issues she has brought up. You can reject the book, but you can not change it.


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