Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ben, In the World by Doris Lessing - Review

Ben, In the World by Doris Lessing (UK)

Fiction 178 pages, Hardcover 2002

Nobel author

This is the sequel to The Fifth Child which I reviewed last week. That book gave us Ben, born into a large family who welcomed each child with celebration. Unlovable and uncontrollable from birth, freakish in looks, he confuses and frightens everyone around him. He is violent and seems incapable of learning. In the end, though she defends him from others, even his mother cannot love him or even stand to have him around. Ben, In the World begins after he has divided and alienated most of his family and left home in his teens.

What becomes of such an angry young monster, lacking control in all matters, uncomprehending the world and people in general, prone to violence and inviting rebuke by his physically threatening appearance? There is always someone who will be a little kind with food or money to a homeless young man, though most will not. Then there are the unscrupulous who will use people like Ben for criminal activities, knowing he doesn't understand what he's doing and is incapable of communicating information about them to authorities if he's caught. Woman are sometimes kind, even tolerant to a point. But he knows they are always afraid of him. He struggles constantly against his own instincts to hurt people when he perceives mockery or even a slight. The only thing that holds him back is nightmarish memories of being institutionalized and the fear that he will be taken back there. He suffers a strong sexual drive that can only lead to trouble.
Abandoned in another country by criminals who have no further use of him, Ben is eventually spotted by a film maker who thinks of him as a caveman throwback and takes care of him while he has an interest in making a film with him. He will end up on another continent, driven by a spurious promise to find his own "kind", where he will slowly come to face the reality of what he really is. Well written and brutally honest in the end, Lessing is brave enough to show us what everyone secretly thinks about people like Ben. They are unwanted, and there is no sadder fate for anyone.

Highly recommended. But read The Fifth Child first. It's worth it.

Ben, In the World was read as part of the Read the Nobels challenge.

I welcome comments, opinions, questions or review links about this or any other book I've read or reviewed.


  1. Wow, you've got me wanting to read both of these books. Great review.

  2. I'm definitely going to read the Fifth Child and then this one...fantastic review!!

  3. I'm still not sure I want to read this one. I'm sure I will at some point, but the caveman film bit really worries me.

  4. *farmlanebooks: I don't give many details of a story in my reviews because I like to experience everything as a surprise when I read. But you have nothing to worry about in that regard; you know film makers, they have some new goofy idea for a film every other week that doesn't pan out.

  5. Thanks for these reviews. I was reading a book last week that mentioned Doris Lessing who I had never heard of before. I checked out a few of her books at the library, including The Fifth Child. I'll definitely be giving it a try now. Thanks. B.

  6. I came over to see your guest review about the Lost City of Z but this caught my eye as I read "The Fifth Child" earlier this year too (I didn't care for it) and was astounded to see that there was a sequel. I just had to see what it was about. I'm seeing that you probably liked The Fifth Child, but I really had a negative reaction to it. Sounds like Lessing took a bit of an interesting route with this book.

  7. As a teacher, I have used The Fifth Child in several classes, so it was very interesting to read both your reviews.
    I don´t think we are supposed to take ´Ben´ quite seriously. He seems to me to be a symbol of the changing times in Britain rather than a real person. Then it also makes some kind of sense that great parents like Harriet and David have this ´monster´. They seem to be punished somehow for trying to turn the clock back to the fifties.

  8. I didn't even know about this sequel to "The Fifth Child." I read that book many years ago, so I should probably reread it before taking on this one.

    Love Doris Lessing. Reading "The Golden Notebook" was an obsession of mine "back in the day."



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