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Doris Lessing The Fifth Child/We Need To Talk About Kevin

(22 Posts)
flyingcloud Sun 13-Sep-09 21:05:54

Has anyone else read The Fifth Child (and We Need to Talk About Kevin). I stupidly read The Fifth Child and am 19 weeks pg, but found it infinitely more disturbing that We Need To Talk...

Also seems that Shriver must have been heavily influenced by this book. Anyone agree?

paisleyleaf Sun 13-Sep-09 21:11:01

I've not read the fifth Child, but I've really enjoyed other Doris Lessing books.
I did quite like the Kevin one too (I know many people don't rate it - but I thought it was well done).
I'd like to read the Fifth Child then - sounds interesting.

Quattrocento Sun 13-Sep-09 21:15:34

I've read both. I can't see the influence directly myself, other than loosely the subject matter. Lessing's prose being elegant and characters well defined and themes carefully explored. The Kevin book is just a schlock-horror story really, and incredibly badly-written to boot. I imagine it's a horrific read if you are pg.

libbyssister Sun 13-Sep-09 21:32:16

Hi flyingcloud

I have read both. I read 'The Fifth Child' years ago, before I had children and it scared the bejeeezus out of me! You should read 'Ben' the sequel. You want so much for things to have worked out nicely in the end...! Don't be disturbed by it though. IMO Doris Lessing intention was to feed those parental fears for the future, to explore our worst expectations of parenthood. And she likes to write science fiction too, so it feels otherworldly at times, I thought.

I read 'We need to talk about Kevin' about 3 years ago after I'd had DS1. It's a thrilling story, but it felt so unreal. The mother was selfish and judgemental and there was a real leaning towards the idea that children are born evil, something I don't believe. All that shite that the baby hated her because he 'made' the labour difficult and didn't breastfeed. Very strange. I never got the impression that the author likes or even tries to understand how babies or children work.

paisleyleaf Sun 13-Sep-09 21:42:29

libbyssister, I think it depends how you read it.

thesecondcoming Sun 13-Sep-09 21:44:26

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

DreamsInBinary Sun 13-Sep-09 21:55:49

I read The Fifth Child over 15 years ago, and it still haunts me! I found it shocking at the time, but was in my teens and so didn't think about it much until I got pregnant and the whole bloody thing came back to me.

blueshoes Sun 13-Sep-09 22:41:26

I wasn't too impressed with The Fifth Child. Seemed quite exaggerated and one-dimensional in a short story sort of way. I read it like a Stephen King book.

Funnily enough, I found Kevin more multi-layered and convincing.

VulgarAchesButCanRun5k Sun 13-Sep-09 23:13:46

Yes - the Fifth Child is really haunting.

i found the way it was written quite "quaint" in some ways and I absolutely hated the way Doris Lessing writes about children with learning difficulties. I found her very offensive in places. She is of another age I think.

I read the sequel recently and you start to see Ben more as an alien and less as a damaged child.

I really disliked his parents.

I also really disliked the parents in "We need to talk about Kevin" too.

JustAnotherManicMummy Sun 13-Sep-09 23:20:08

I've read both. I liked both of them but in different ways. The Lessing as a horror and The Shriver as a comment on modern society.

I think by looking at each novel like that it's easier to enjoy.

CaptainScarlet Sun 13-Sep-09 23:28:53

I have read both, but I read 5th child pre-DC, Kevin post-dc.... I think I need to re-read the Doris Lessing...

wukter Thu 01-Oct-09 10:47:16

I read Kevin a couple of years ago, loved it. Stayed up til 4 in the morning on a work night to get through it. (Pre kids of course, when your sleep was your own to squander). The 5th Child is on the bookcase...bit scared to pick it up to e honest as motherhood is still very new to me and maybe not robust enough yet for it.

The fact that the mother was so unlikeable is what gave the book its power IMHO. The selfishness, vanity, self pity - it's in us all to a lesser and greater degree. Horribly honest in some ways

usual disclaimers apply

busybutterfly Thu 01-Oct-09 15:31:25

I loved Kevin, and will now be looking for the Lessing book next library visit!

thesecondcoming Thu 01-Oct-09 16:22:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MrsFlittersnoop Thu 01-Oct-09 16:57:18

When "The Fifth Child" was first published, Doris Lessing explained in interviews that the child Ben was meant to be a genetic throwback - a Neanderthal in fact, and was not suffering from any kind of learning disability.

She was exploring the idea that certain individuals can be born with an inbuilt propensity for violence and be without morals or empathy, and that this reflects the stage in our evolution when physical strength and brute cunning were the dominant traits essential for survival.

She was trying to imagine how a Neanderthal would function or survive in modern society. It's many years since I read the book, but seem to recall that the end of the book describes how his middle-class family disintegrates and Ben falls in with a semi-feral group of violent underclass yoofs where his pecularities go unnoticed by his peers.

Lessing is of course quite wrong in her assumption about the nature of Neanderthal man. Recent research has revealed that Neanderthals were a peaceful and cop-operative species who were probably driven to extinction by us more agressive Homo Sapiens.

flyingcloud Thu 01-Oct-09 17:11:47

Thanks MrsF - interesting post. Yes you are right about the end of the book.

There is very little emotional engagement with the characters in The Fifth Child and it does feel quite dated now.

MrsFlittersnoop Thu 01-Oct-09 17:26:46

Something that has stood the test of time is the dreadful smuggery of Ben's family, his mother in particular. She comes across as the sort of parent that Mumsnetters love to hate! smile. You can practically feel Lessing's contempt dripping from the pages (rather like the way she portrays the naive middle class rebel in "The Good Terrorist")

Lessing also said the book was about hubris, because the parents really didn't have the resources to cope with a fifth child and still maintain their superficially perfect MC lifestyle. Their decision to have another baby is portrayed a a deeply selfish one which has a very negative impact on the extended family (i.e the Grandmother who stops working to help out with childcare etc.) even before Ben's problems become apparent.

VulgarAchesButCanRun5k Thu 01-Oct-09 18:18:47

I still think there is no excuse for Lessing's comments on learning disability. She specifically calls a child with Down's syndrome "ugly" and I find that deeply shocking. I might be wrong, but I found that this seemed like Lessing's voice speaking through the pages. I did listen to her being interviewed on Radio 4 some months back and she mentioned her intense dislike of t'internet so I suppose she won't be reading this.wink

She sounds like a cantankerous old bag when interviewed, but interesting nonetheless, with much to say. I think her cantankerous old bag style comes over quite strongly in her writing.

thesecondcoming Thu 01-Oct-09 21:26:10

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LyraSilvertongue Tue 06-Oct-09 18:32:47

I'm reading The Fifth Child now and finding it disturbing. I was shocked at the attitudes to Downs Syndrome, eg the mother covering the baby up at a gathering to avoid offending anyone.

busybutterfly Tue 27-Oct-09 23:13:54

Agree with blueshoes - imo Kevin was brilliant, The Fifth Child was ok.

NicknameTaken Thu 29-Oct-09 16:15:50

I thought Kevin was great, although definitely not recommended for pregnancy. The fact that the mother is an unreliable narrator makes it all the more interesting. It's an open question how much she is projecting onto her son and how her beliefs have shaped him.

Haven't read the Fifth Child. Interesting background info about Neanderthals, MrsFlitter. Definitely some speciesism on the part of Ms Lessing!

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