The Fifth Child – Doris Lessing (new obsession)

I read this short story a while ago and the storyline has been in my mind ever since. Lessing presents what at first seems like familial bliss between a couple, Harriet and David, but below which lurk hidden weaknesses and prejudices. The story culminates in disaster, and the slow descent into misery and hatred following, as might be inferred from the title, their fifth child.

Harriet and David meet each other at an office party and it’s love at first sight. Both of them are eager to start a large family – everyone mocks them when they buy a huge house for their future family, but they are adamant and go on to achieve their dreams of more and more children and a happy house full of people and laughter. Anyway, I won’t spoil it but their story takes a turn for the worse with the birth of their fifth child, Ben, who is somewhat different from the others. The couple are faced with a moral dilemma – to choose between Ben or the rest of their children.

I found the story fascinating, difficult to put down, yet uncomfortable to read. The juxtaposition of familial bliss with hatred of a child is hard to get to grips with and even disturbing. Lessing’s fantastic writing draws you right into the story and makes you question your own emotions and judgements. A definite must read.


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