Books Magazine

The Fifth Child

Posted on the 10 December 2019 by Cheekymeeky

I've been wanting to read a Doris Lessing book for the longest time. What stopped me all this time was the intimidation factor. When an author wins a Nobel prize, there's something inside me that shrinks a little - worried that their books would be too high-brow for me.

I eventually picked up The Fifth Child because the book synopsis is pretty simple, the cover very striking with elements of horror making this book an apt read for the season.

Book Synopsis

My Review

Wow! This was a deceptively simple read and easy read. I finished it over the course of a day, but it lingered on in my mind for ages afterwards.

I found this book in the Horror section in my library, right next to Rosemary's Baby. Turns out it's quite similar thematically to Rosemary's Baby. Both books deal with the horrors of having a baby that defies the norm, who is different and possibly dangerous - a mother's worst fears. Rosemary's Baby focuses more on the pregnancy, while The Fifth Child focuses on what comes after.

The book is not however outright horror. It's just shocking. The shift in thoughts and general perceptions between the 1960s and 2019 is like day and night.

In today's times, Harriet would probably be diagnosed with post-partum depression, her problem child Ben would probably have some form of autism. They would be treated, their problems recognized. But at that time, there was nothing. Instead, Ben is branded as a monster, and Harriet is hysterical.

If this was the only talking point, this book would be just about average. But there's so much in it, I don't really know where to start discussing it.

Harriet and David want a large family, a big house. It seems a reasonable wish, until we see the pressure it puts on everybody around them, and finally themselves. It made me reflect - just how much of humankind's misery is because of our greed and lack of self control? Do we even recognize if we have crossed the boundaries of our endurance and tolerance?

She said to David, '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.'


I thought this book was particularly pertinent in this era of mommy bloggers. I follow so many mommy bloggers who have 4-5 or more children ( Taza is one of the most famous, I think), and I've always wondered how they manage. Who pays for it all? Who takes care of the kids? Unfortunately the bloggers are very opaque about these hard questions. So, I can only imagine that there's someone in the background financing and caring for the brood. Or these parents are really superhuman! LOL!

Above all else, is the question of motherhood. Harriet alternates between various attitudes towards Ben - horror and pity, sometimes mixed with love and sadness and despair, and of course it impacts her mothering. The fact that apart from him, she has to focus on four other children makes her situation even worse, and things start to freefall pretty quickly.

'The trouble is, you get used to hell,' said Harriet. `After a day with Ben I feel as if nothing exists but him. As if nothing has ever existed. I suddenly realize I haven't remembered the others for hours.


Lessing went on to write a sequel to The Fifth Childcalled Ben, In The World. I'm pretty interested to read it, and view the sequence of events from his perspective.

Have you read this book? Any other Doris Lessing book? Care to recommend any to me?

The Fifth Child


Voracious reader, vegetarian foodie, mostly armchair traveler, and frequent online shopper. I love to talk about all these passions (and other things happening in my life) in this blog.

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