Many will recall the powerful impact The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing's 1988 novel, made on publication. Its account of idyllic marital and parental bliss irredeemably shattered by the arrival of the feral fifth child of the Lovatts made for unnerving and compulsive reading. That child, Ben, now grown to legal maturity, is the central character of this sequel, which picks up the fable at the end of the childhood where the first book ended and takes our primal, misunderstood, maladjusted teenager out into the world, where again he meets mostly with mockery, fear and incomprehension but with just enough kindness and openness to keep him afloat as his adventures take him from London to the South of France and on to South America in his restless quest for community, companionship and peace. As in Mara and Dann, Doris Lessing in this newest book returns to a plain, unadorned prose fit for fables again, we have a childlike perspective at the heart of the book again, the world in all its malevolence and misapprehenison swirls around at the edge, while, occasionally, a strong character steps forward to try to stake out some values and practise some good behaviour. Again, it is one of Lessing's novels that will, I think, last most particularly as a work that imaginative teenagers of all ages will be riveted by.
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