Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Not Responsible for Items Forgotten or Lost

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Not Responsible for Items Forgotten or Lost

Article excerpt

Not Responsible for Items Forgotten or Lost

Shed Ten Years IN Ten Weeks. Gary Null's Ultimate Anti-Aging Program. 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. Before The Hudson Review sent me this latest batch of fiction to read, I found myself one fine Sunday afternoon in the local Barnes & Noble, killing time in the "How To Live Longer" section of the store, in part because I'm a hopeless hypochondriac, but mostly because it was the section from which I could most easily keep an eye on the parking lot as I waited for my ride. It had been many years since I had last read a Doris Lessing book, and so I wondered-it was a British kind of day outside, and Lessing herself has always seemed ageless to me-what she was about in these times.

I shortly thereafter received Ben, in the World, her thirty-seventh book by my count.1 It's a short, astonishing one, a kind of fable that's written as a sequel to The Fifth Child, where we first meet Ben Lovatt, a Neanderthal throwback who fits in nowhere. In this sequel, he has left behind the family that could never understand him, and he is loose in the world; the book is mosdy about the people who look after him, and what they do to him. For Lessing, Ben is certainly not incidental but is the perfect mirror of a cynical society that uses whatever it can grasp; he is also emblematic to her of the human condition. More importandy, he is a fully-realized and sympathetic character whose hunger is sometimes quite literal. "It was not an easy hunger: the thin taste of bread or a bun could not satisfy it. It was a need for meat, and he smelled the rawness of blood, the reek of it: yet this hunger was dangerous to him." His primordial nature thus drives him; his literary bloodline could be traced back to Frankenstein except that he is no experiment. When a kindly woman who has taken him in dies, he finds a prostitute, Rita, and her pimp, Johnston. Rita enjoys him and then comes to befriend him, but Johnston dresses him up and sends him as a bagman to the south of France with a false identity as an actor-Ben has rugged good looks. (Throwbacks in the right circumstances have a certain commercial value.) Once Ben has served his purpose and is abandoned in France-though, it should be said, in a swanky hotel with a limited but decent bankroll-a dilettante filmmaker discovers him and takes him to South America, where he becomes a part of a group of expatriates who perhaps are making a movie, though, like certain writing students, they seem more enamored with the idea of moviemaking, discussed over flasks of booze and bowls of dope, than with the task itself. Teresa, a native member of this group who has survived an adolescence in the school of hard knocks, befriends Ben, but soon enough a doctor from a scientific institute discovers him and locks him away like an ape for study. Teresa and some others rescue him and trek into the Andes, the authorities close on their heels, to a gallery of rock pictures depicting an extinct race of people who are clearly kin to Ben. Ben understands somehow that he will never find a place in the modern world, and the next fine morning he throws himself over the precipice. Teresa, poignantly, understands that "... we are pleased that he is dead and we don't have to think about him."

It seems to me that Lessing, never one for humor, has managed to avoid the pitfalls of this kind of book-overbroad Huxleyan satire or shrill Lawrentian polemic. A throwback herself to the pre-Jamesian days when visionary storytelling could be everything and craft was often an afterthought, she can still get inside my head in the way that her better earlier novels once managed to do. She also never forgets that as readers we are as interested in the multifarious world as we are in the permutations of consciousness that too exclusively sometimes take the attention of contemporary writers.

Michael Ondaatje, a transplanted Sri Lankan who settled in Canada and won the Booker Prize for The English Patient, is almost a magical realist, but not quite. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.