Magazine article The Spectator

A Truly Beastly Hero

Magazine article The Spectator

A Truly Beastly Hero

Article excerpt



by Doris Lessing

Flamingo, 16.99, pp. 178

Twelve years ago, Doris Lessing published a cautionary tale about a kind, liberal couple with a large house, four wellloved children, friends and holidays galore. Into this happy home is born `the Fifth Child', a violent, monstrous boy whose presence threatens the family's stability and raises dreadful philosophical questions. How can his parents love him? How can such a creature ever find his place in the social order?

Miss Lessing, now in her eighties, provides few answers in this sequel. Ben is 18, though he looks much older. He isn't a normal human being, but what is he exactly? The old lady who looks after him for a while and teaches him how to keep clean and brush his unruly hair, thinks he might be a Yeti. Others call him a `throwback' or a `beast'. Sometimes he cannot restrain a bark or growl, but, when he speaks, Ben has an educated accent (a posh Yeti, then?).

From the start, we see how Ben's inability to understand the world makes him prey to the abuse of every chancer he meets. After being exploited as a labourer, he becomes an unwitting drugs courier, to France. There he is stranded until a director spots him and takes him to Brazil to star in a film about a primitive race.

In this novel, the men are bad, the women good. In other ways too, it reads like a fable. The style is simplistic; Miss Lessing dispatches more than one storyline with the observation that it had a `happy ending'. …

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