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The Fifth Child

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  15,862 ratings  ·  1,652 reviews
Doris Lessing's contemporary gothic horror story—centered on the birth of a baby who seems less than human—probes society's unwillingness to recognize its own brutality.

Harriet and David Lovatt, parents of four children, have created an idyll of domestic bliss in defiance of the social trends of late 1960s England. While around them crime and unrest surge, the Lovatts are
Paperback, 133 pages
Published November 17th 2010 by Vintage International (first published 1988)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  15,862 ratings  ·  1,652 reviews

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Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Robin by: lark benobi
Motherhood - a horror story

This book starts off with two young 20-somethings, David and Harriet, who find each other at a work party in the late 1960s. They're deliriously happy to find each other, having always felt different and somewhat condemned for their differences. They marry, and buy a huge Victorian house with many rooms to fill with the many children they plan to have. Their families are disapproving. Why so many children? How will you support them? What's the rush? Aren't there more i
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing

The Fifth Child is a short novel by the British-Zimbabwean writer Doris Lessing, first published in the United Kingdom in 1988, and since translated into several languages.

It describes the changes in the happy life of a married couple, Harriet and David Lovatt, as a consequence of the birth of Ben, their fifth child.

When David Lovatt meets Harriet at an office party, they both immediately fall in love. They both share the same conservative outlooks, which they per
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Stela by: Carmen Irimia
It was the summer of 2013 when a friend of mine, who’s an English teacher, asked me how I would teach “The Fifth Child”. Since I knew nothing about the book nor had it, she sent me a PDF copy and here I am, after an unsettling but fascinating reading, asking myself the same question: what key of lecture could I offer? Because it is, undoubtedly, worth reading. A little masterpiece about the fragility of happiness and the illusion of the security provided by family, as the author herself said in ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Selfish Gene Pool

My mother had six live births. The eggs didn’t get any better as they went on. Neither did the quality of family life. I don’t know if she actually wanted all those children or was forced into her situation by religion and a high libido husband. In either case it wore her out and I think she came to regret imposing all these fairly strange people on the world.

It seems to be unacceptable in much polite company to point out that the urge to procreate is as necessary to constra
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
The core dilemma

This is a horror story exploring what happens when a monstrous child is born to a perfect family. When there is no way for everyone to be happy and safe, who must sacrifice what, how does one choose - and what happens when the parents can’t agree? It is essentially a variant of the Trolley Problem, where you see a runaway train at a fork in the track, with people at risk on both: you can either do nothing, knowing five people will die, or actively divert it so that just one perso
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-library
All Harriet and David Lovatt ever wanted was a happy marriage and a big house filled with children.  For a few years, things played out their way, four great kids, and a house that virtually glowed with warmth and love.  It was not until Harriet's next pregnancy that darkness begins its inevitable descent.  The fifth child produced seems to be a different breed altogether.  What better hiding place than inside a mother's womb?  I'm sure all babies are different, but this one is unsettling in the ...more
Jun 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hey, ya know that ugly devil baby-in-arms in that one impressionable scene in "Passion of the Christ"? Yeah, well, he's here, here in the middle of this taut, mesmerizing novella, growing up and ripping his innocent family to shreds.

Well, he says "Hi."
This is a story about a woman who gives birth to a troll.

It is neither charming nor delightful.

It reminded me of Peter the Great, although he didn't give birth to a troll.

You know he founded the City of St.Petersburg and designed it to have lots of canals because the Dutch were the most modern nation and they had lots of canals - though naturally it wouldn't have been expressed like that, perhaps he would have said that his new city required an appropriate transport infrastructure to meet the ne
May 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
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 fi ...more
Apr 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: everybody knows
Recommended to Mariel by: everybody understands

She felt rejected by him. They had always loved to lie here feeling a new life, greeting it. She had waited four times for the first little flutters, easily mistaken but then certain; the sensation that was as if a fish mouthed out a bubble; the small responses to her movements, her touch, and even- she was convinced- her thoughts.

But what about me? I've been shot. Go on without me, save yourselves. Ooh aah it hurts, like a spoon or a papercut that irritates your mind into the beyond. Listen,
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of "Rosemary's Baby"
Readers, beware of novella’s: they might look short, but their stories can haunt you for days.

Harriet and David Lovatt’s life couldn’t be happier: a good marriage, a big house perfect for hosting parties, and four healthy and charming children. Sure, it’s a lot of work for a couple both 26 years old, but this is the life they dreamed off!
Yet when Harriet gives birth to the fifth child, Ben, every happy dream disappears. “Neanderthal Ben” is too strong for his age, always screams, and the little
Glenn Sumi
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nobel-winners
Review to come. The book took a while to heat up, but what a powerful, devastating ending.
Thomson Kneeland
Apr 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
This was my introduction to the writing of Doris Lessing; I had high hopes for the book but was sorely disappointed. The writing was pretty unengaging for me, though not poor. The plot was ridiculous in content, though perhaps acceptable as a sort of "unmagical realism"; completely unrealistic and unbelievable, along with two dimensional characters suitable for allegory only. Perhaps the book stands as an indictment of conservative 1950's family values, white picket fences, women staying home to ...more
Carmel Hanes
Jun 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a devoted Trekkie from the age of 13, I've particularly valued the original Star Trek because of the social themes laced within the creative visions of sci-fi. A race of people, each with faces that are equal measures of black and white, who have destroyed each other because the black and white are on opposite sides of the face is much more than a fanciful representation of an odd culture in decline. A moving rock that kills ceases to be an enemy when we discover it is protecting offspring th ...more
Apr 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: well, I know who I wouldn't recommend it to
Shelves: england, house, autism
"It's crazy," said Dorothy. She was flushed with the hot tea and with all the things she was forcing herself not to say. p. 34

This is fascinating.
Yes this is about a bad seed, the last child in an otherwise happy family. But it also has a lot to do with perception and judgement, how the parents, Harriet and David, see themselves and how others see them and how they think others see them. And how they see others, particularly their fifth child. Who is criticized and how and why? What expectations
Paul Bryant
Nov 18, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Catholics
Shelves: novels, spooky-ookums
For anyone thinking of reading this slender novel by such a reknowned writer I say ... devote your time instead to this little movie from 1974 which takes the same theme but pushes it to the VERY LIMIT

That's what Doris Lessing SHOULD have written.

Note : prospective parents may be advised to steer clear.
Feb 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: book groups

This is the first Doris Lessing book I've read and she's a great writer. This is a true "horror" story...not in the classic sense, but in the real sense of a horrible situation that people must confront. It leaves the reader with the thought "what would you do if you found yourself in this situation?". Therefore it is a highly discussable book.

Interesting characters, interesting plot, great writing. What more can a reader ask?

Reread in April 2010 for Maze book discussion. Still thought it w
Oct 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
You cannot shape your child into what you want, says Doris Lessing: you must help him become what he is. He may not be exactly in your image - but he will be a special snowflake in his own way. Glad to be getting more parenting tips from literature. ...more
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read "The Fifth Child" last night. That was so, sooooo disturbing. I'm exhausted today because I got my hands on it at 7:30pm and then I was up til 2 finishing it, but I knew I'd never be able to sleep unless I just finished it. Then I couldn't stop thinking about it, and dreamed about it!

If you haven't read it but have any inclination at all to read it, stop here and don't read the rest of my review. Then read it, and then come back here so we can discuss!!! I'm dying to talk to someone abou
Deborah Markus
Dec 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I reread this the day Doris Lessing died. It's very short, and every sentence packs a heady concentration of power.

This is the novel that introduced me to Lessing. I was lucky enough to be working in a bookstore when it was released; I read a review and immediately used my employee's discount to buy a copy. I think I read it all in one sitting that day, too.

The premise is simple: A man and a woman fall in love because each sees in the other a rejection of the shallow, worldly, sex-is-entertainm
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: women-writers, horror
“We just wanted to be better than everyone else, that’s all. We thought we were.”

Well this was an interesting little story about the perils of parenthood. We have Harriet and David, two people who feel old-fashioned in the world of the 60’s because they want to have a lot of children. They have the audacity to think everything will turn out well—that they deserve to have what they want. But life isn’t like that. You just don’t know.

“Then something bad happened.”

It took me a little bit to get ov
(3.5) Shelve this alongside We Need to Talk about Kevin as a book to make you rethink having kids. Harriet and David Lovatt buy a large Victorian house within commuting distance of London and dream of filling it with children – six, eight; however many. Their first four children are all they’d hoped for, if not spaced out as much as they intended. The Lovatts enjoy hosting the extended family at Easter and Christmas and during the summer holidays. Although there are good-natured jokes about the ...more
Brown Girl Reading
Jul 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book freaked me out. I've never read a Doris Lessing book before and I'm almost sure that this one is out of the ordinary compared to what she usually writes. It's short but packed with lots of ideas concerning family, mother-children relationships, husband -wife relationships, societal expectations, etc. All done with a touch of gothic horror to slide it right down. Well worth the read. Now I'm intrigued to read other titles from Lessing. Although I'm afraid tackling would be a better choi ...more
rachel  misfiticus
Jun 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 17, 2018 added it
David and Harriet are introverts in the “greedy and selfish” 1960’s; he’s an architect and she’s a sales assistant, he’s 30 and higher class, she’s 24 and a virgin and considered heading for old-maid status. They meet at an office party and instantly realize that they are meant for each other. They are ambitious and plan a lifestyle way beyond their means, secure in the fact that David’s parental money will bail them out.

The chosen lifestyle is a massive house in the suburbs with four floors of
Harriet and David work in the same company, she is a graphic designer, and he is an architect. They love each other, decide to marry and promise to have many children.
To welcoming their future big family, their choice stopped on a massive building in the suburbs of London. Pregnancies follow one another quickly in a joyous house always full, family celebrations bringing together the parents and brothers and sisters of the couple, each attracted by the harmony that reigns there. The birth of Ben
Read: April 2017

The plot: Harriet and David are two ordinary middle-class professionals who pride themselves on having an ordinary - if boring - life. Their joint aim in life is to get married and start a large family together, of at least eight children. Their plan proceeds smoothly up until the fifth pregnancy when their happy normal lives start to slowly go off the rails.

I found The Fifth Child to be nothing like I'd been expecting. I enjoyed the depictions of the couple, their four children
I can understand the low ratings this book tends to receive; I can't imagine it would particularly appeal to people who don't have kids. The brilliance of The Fifth Child is in its profound portrayal and examination of all the little anxieties (often unspoken or hidden) that constantly worry the minds of parents. These anxieties are made manifest in such a surreal and powerful way through Ben. He is terrifying, his presence is malignant; he is the incarnation of parental fear. A creepy, uneasy u ...more
Andy Weston
Oct 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: horror, novella, gothic
Certainly this is an odd book and a story that I wasn't expecting. Rather than being a horror story as it is reviewed by some media I found it very sad, though Lessing's telling of it lacks sympathy. It seems also to be told in a rush.

Few will embark on the novella without knowing that the fifth child of Harriet and David, is a special one, but a third of the novel is spent relating the parents' story up until then. I wasn't expecting another version of the Omen, but the case of Ben's childhood
Dec 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
A middle-class English couple buck the disapproval of both their families and plan to have “at least six” children, buying a huge house and becoming the focus of all holiday gatherings. The fifth child, however, Ben, after a difficult pregnancy, turns out to be some sort of evil throwback, horrifying and sending away the extended family.

This slim novel appears to be making a comment on social selfishness, as well as being a parable for our violent modern times – “the barbarous eighties,” as the
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Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Oliv ...more

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“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.” 10 likes
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