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Ben, In the World: The Sequel to the Fifth Child Paperback – July 24, 2001
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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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Top customer reviews
Ben is a simple soul, with a heartbreaking yearning for human love and affection. But part of him is not human. He was born into a human family, raised in human environments, and hungers for human acceptance. When people see Ben, though, they know he's something else, something apart. It frightens and fascinates them at the same time. He has something that people lack, and mostly want--a connection with goodness that comes with honesty.
To help his benefactress Ben ventures into the world in search of money. His ensuing journey leads him into collusion with low life drug dealers, international film producers, and disingenuous hustlers. He floats from England to France to South America, all with the hope finding a home. Instead he's faced with all the selfish venality that human nature can muster, while he feeds the needs of those who are destroying him.
Along the way he sees glimmers of light through keyholes. He enjoys a startling liaison with a prostitute who so appreciates his bestial sexual style that she pays him. On his odyssey to South America to make a film about a different race of humans he makes a touching connection with another prostitute who sees redemption in him, and tries to save him.
But largely Ben's story is one of betrayal and deceit by those he trusts. His human side is so beautifully rendered, his physical deformities seem like an afterthought. But Ben hunts and eats birds and wildlife with his bare hands. He mates like an animal. He's a creature filled with honest instinct, and that's what people fear about him the most.