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Ben, In the World: The Sequel to the Fifth Child Paperback – July 24, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 178 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (July 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060934654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060934651
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #976,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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.
Marzipan
Expertly written imaginitive book, clever story line.
Lilien Dumont

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 32 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: david.r.watson@btinternet.com 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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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Marzipan on January 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Doris Lessing proves her literary genius in her novel, Ben, In the World. The author manages to draw her reader into the story of the miserable, friendless main character, Ben Lovatt. His story is memorable and relatable. Likewise, the chain of themes and literary devices Ms. Lessing moves the novel in such a profound and intelligible way.

Ben is a "different" character from the average protagonist in a novel. Many of his traits resemble Grendel in the John Gardner novel of the same name. He is tall, and questionable in looks. Other characters do not believe he is completely human or completely an animal. The New York Times Book Review says, `"He is more poignant than Frankenstein's monster just because he has hope"' ("Critical Praise") Ben Lovatt is a character like no other; Doris Lessing's depiction of the main character of this story is exceptional.

Ben, In the World is a novel everyone should read. Doris Lessing is an amazing storyteller. She captures her reader in well-expressed, interesting stories. She helps the reader to empathize with the outcasts of society. Ben, In the World is a classic in its own right.
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