I loved We Need to Talk About Kevin, so when Dorte suggested that The Fifth Child sounded similar, I decided to find a copy. Dorte is right, the two books both deal with a mother who is struggling to deal with ‘an unlovable child’ and I think fans of We Need to Talk About Kevin will enjoy this one too.
The Fifth Child focuses on a loving couple, Harriet and David, who buy a big house and dream of filling it with happy children. Each year they have a new child, and their dream seems to be coming true, but then everything changes when their fifth child is born. Ben is different from the beginning. She feels his violence even during the pregnancy, and when he is born he is of a completely different temperament to his older brothers and sisters. Harriet struggles to cope with his aggressive behaviour, which seems to get worse as he grows. The older children become isolated and fearful of their younger brother, and the family begins to fall apart.
The book raises many important issues, including whether ‘bad’ children are born that way, and whether it is more important to look after the four ‘good’ children, or focus your attention on the one difficult child.
I found Ben’s character a lot less believable than Kevin’s. His violence seemed a bit extreme, for example I cannot imagine any one-year-old deliberately killing animals, and found it even more implausible that she had to chase an 18-month-old for more than a mile before catching him – surely any adult can catch any child under the age of five in less than 50 metres?
I also found the writing style a little tedious – there were no breaks in the text at all – no chapters, not even a small break between paragraphs. So, although it was only a short book (130 pages) I found it difficult to find places to stop for a short break. These are minor issues though, as this book is well worth reading.
Overall, this was a very interesting book, which would be perfect for book clubs. Recommended to anyone interested in parenting issues.
Have you read any books by Doris Lessing?
Can you recommend any other books which focus on similar parenting issues?