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Ben, In the World: The Sequel to The Fifth Child Hardcover – July 25, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (July 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060196289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060196288
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,560,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In a 1957 short story, "The Eye of God in Paradise," Doris Lessing brought to life a disturbed and disturbing child, a "desperate, wild, suffering little creature" who bit anyone who approached him. This child haunted not only the story's protagonist but the author. She first revived him in a powerful 1988 novel, The Fifth Child, pondering this strange offspring of an otherwise idyllic middle-class family. Who, or what, was Ben? Beast, goblin, throwback, alien, or a "normal healthy fine baby"? Lessing wrestled with these questions without ever quite managing to answer them.

She takes them up again, however, in Ben, in the World. Now 18, but looking 35, Ben is estranged from his family, forced to find his way in a basically hostile world. His yeti-like appearance invariably evokes fear or amusement. And his other habits (including an appetite for raw meat) hardly allow him to blend into the crowd:

He would catch and eat little animals, or a bird.... Or he stood by the cow with his arm around her neck, nuzzling his face into her; and the warmth that came into him from her, and the hot sweet blasts of her breath on his arms and legs when she turned her head to sniff at him meant the safety of kindness. Or he stood leaning on a fence post staring up at the night sky, and on clear nights he sang a little grunting song to the stars, or he danced around, lifting his feet and stamping.
After three fictional encounters, Lessing knows Ben well. She constantly intervenes to direct the reader's response to him, to the people who surround him, and to his (sometimes unlikely) experiences in Europe and South America. His misery and alienation remain the focus of the novel. Yet they are offset by the odd individuals who offer Ben their friendship--and finally, by his wayward quest to find people like himself. --Vicky Lebeau

From Publishers Weekly

When it appeared more than a decade ago, The Fifth Child, Lessing's powerful novel about a boy who was a freakish throwback to a primitive stage of existence, was justly praised as a shocking and memorable speculation about what happens when society is confronted with a human anomaly. This sequel continues Ben Lovatt's story, but with decidedly inferior narrative resources. Ben has run away from his upper-middle-class British family, who were humiliated by this genetic aberration. He is now 18, but with his fearsomely developed chest and arms, his squat and hairy body and his feral face, he appears to frightened observers to be a man in his 30s. Ironically, Ben himself is terrified of society. Unable to read, to handle money, to decipher even the simplest of situations, he is helpless, lonely and desperate. He realizes he must control the blood-red tides of rage that engulf his brain, lest he kill the adversaries who torment him. But in a series of lurid adventures in a plot that seems to have been made up in fits and starts, Ben is betrayed by nearly everyone. Only three women are kind to him: one is old and terminally ill, the other two are prostitutes. People who have power and money abuse him, notably an American scientist doing research in Rio de Janeiro, where bewildered Ben has been transported by a down-and-out filmmaker, who picked him up in Paris after Ben was used as a dupe in a cocaine smuggling operation. It's obvious that Lessing is making a social statement about how intellectuals acting in the name of art or science cruelly exploit simple people who can't defend themselves. The plot achieves bathetic melodrama in the deserted mining country of interior Brazil, where poor Ben, "knowing [he is] alone, used but then abandoned," meets his grisly fate and brings this soap-operatic story to its long-foreshadowed, tragic close. (Aug..-- alone, used but then abandoned," meets his grisly fate and brings this soap-operatic story to its long-foreshadowed, tragic close. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

The Fifth Child was a terrific book.
Robert P. Gray
Other characters do not believe he is completely human or completely an animal.
Expertly written imaginitive book, clever story line.
Lilien Dumont

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By William Krischke VINE VOICE on January 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I loved the Fifth Child. I found it powerful and provocative: as it focused mostly upon Ben's mother and how she dealt with her strange son, it delved deep into questions of love and duty, otherness, and societal bonds. Ben, the savage child, was a catalyst, a mirror held up to our own modern selves, in which we see the savage ways we treat what we fear and do not understand.
Sadly, Ben in the World is a great disappointment to me. Lessing decides here to follow Ben and see who he is, what he wants, and how he hurts. I think this is a mistake; what made the Fifth Child work was Ben as a mirror, a reflection of society. Here, that is so deeply diminished it's hardly worth mentioning. And it's hard to come to any kind of powerful discovery of who Ben is -- a yeti, a throwback, whatever, ultimately another lonely person in a lonely world.
The premise is flawed, the plot is weak and wandering -- there's no real reason why anything happens to Ben -- and in the end, it degrades to a hardly believable B-movie plotline (reminded me of that movie with Matthew Broderick and the monkey. Project X?)
Seems like I've heard a lot of people saying Ben is a parallel to Frankenstein. Hardly, unless you mean the monosyllabic Frankenstein of the movies. Shelley's monster was articulate, passionate, opinionated, and driven. He showed us ourselves at our worst. Ben is simply primal. At best, he shows us ourselves at our simplest.
It took some discipline to finish this book. I won't pick it up again, and I don't recommend it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert P. Gray on November 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Fifth Child was a terrific book. It brought up such concepts as separateness, lack of conscience, prejudice, etc. Ben, in the World is a worthy Sequel. In this book we get a more rounded Ben; it would have been so easy for Doris Lessing to write a book about a terrible throwback who didn't fit in anywhere. That is not what she did. Ben is very, very different, but he is human, he has feelings and, most of all, he wants to know where he "fits in" and why is everyone so different from him. Lessing took a good plot, that many pedestrian authors could handle, and made it into a great book by understanding the CHARACTER.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mr. David R. Watson on June 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Reviewer: from Essex, UK Doris Lessing has written some fine books, but really there is nothing to be said that can possibly redeem "Ben in the World". The theme of alienation is treated with sledgehammer crudeness to the point where the book is nothing more than caricature. The central character, Ben, is a genetic throw-back, physically and emotionally ill equiped for the world into which he is born, but the facile treatment of his trials leaves the reader uninvolved. The plotting is cursory, with little beyond a set of hollywood stereotypes filling in the spaces around Ben. We are expected to believe in, not one, but two "hookers with a heart" (as crass a cliche as one can imagine) and a brutal and exploitaive scientific research organisation bent on using and abusing the eponymous hero. What we asked to take seriously is little more than the staple of cheap television sci fi, kids stuff really, but not worthy of consideration as literature. Evil scientists conducting secret experiments without regard for morals or the human consequences may well have been adequate devices for fiction when Wells wrote "The Island of Doctor Moreau" (though I would argue it was cheap stuff even then), but in this day and age we surely deserve a more sophisticated analysis of the machinations and complex morality of science. In Ben we have a pure hearted and ingenuous hero, trusting and always likely to be exploited, but again he seems little more than a crude symbol of a far more interesting and equivocal figure which Lessing, it seems, could not bring her self to devise.Read more ›
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bob Annechino on September 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The Fifth Child worked so brilliantly because every page breathed the conflict between the "nice" normalcy of Ben's family with the horror of this misbegotten child. The opening portrait of this novel continues this tension, in the story of his life with an elderly woman who takes him in from the streets. But from there Ben falls in with socially marginalized characters, some nice, some nasty, but none of whom provides a worthy foil to Ben's anomoly. Here he is nothing but victim, either exploted or pitied, and the story takes on a flat, cartoonish, soap opera quality. Perhaps the author intends some sort of parable in the turn of events that casts Ben as an ersatz film actor, but I found that whole situation witless, derailing what could have been a challenging and engaging story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on January 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
At times there seems to be a complete disconnect between "The Fifth Child" and Lessing's sequel. In the first installment, Ben is a monster, physically, emotionally, and morally; he is the epitome of inexplicable evil and an evolutionary "throwback"; he proves to be unredeemable. He seems barely human, and with Lessing offering hints of genetic alteration, perhaps he isn't. One dominant theme is how such a child tests the love of a mother; how can parents retain their love for a murderous criminal, an unrecalcitrant scourge?

But something has happened to Ben between the last page of the first book and the first page of this one. He now seems human, more like Frankenstein's monster rather than the nefarious hooligan we originally met. While the original novel is told mostly from the point of view of Ben's mother, here we see the world through his eyes. Yet the change in his essence is far more than what might be justified by a shift in perspective. Ben, who used to terrify and dominate those around him, now wants to find his way in a society that frightens him; he wants, perhaps, to find his own kind, even to be loved and petted. "You're a good boy, Ben,' one of his newfound guardians says, and "tears came into his eyes . . . expressing his love and gratitude for those words"--sentiments that would have been out of place in the first book. He has been broken in, turned from a tyrant to a victim, a source of pathos rather than horror--and what's missing is why. Or is Lessing simply trying to say we misunderstood Ben all along? Perhaps.

As a sequel, then, "Ben, in the World" seems off-kilter--almost as if we had missed an installment in the journey of Ben's life, and I think it very nearly upsets the themes and power of Lessing's original fable.
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