Ben, in the world :

by Lessing, Doris,
Published by : Flamingo, (London :) Physical details: 178 p. ; 24 cm. ISBN:0002261952 :. Year: 2000 Fiction notes: Click to open in new window
Item type Current location Call number Copy number Status Date due
Books Books British Council Library
YELLOW ZONE
F/LES (Browse shelf) 1 Available

Excerpt provided by Syndetics

Ben, In the World The Sequel to the Fifth Child Chapter One 'How old are you?' 'Eighteen.' This reply did not come at once because Ben was afraid of what he knew was going to happen now, which was that the young man behind the glass protecting him from the public set down his biro on the form he was filling in, and then, with a look on his face that Ben knew only too well, inspected his client. He was allowing himself amusement that was impatient, but it was not quite derision. He was seeing a short, stout, or at least heavily built man -- he was wearing a jacket too big for him -- who must be at least forty. And that face! It was a broad face, with strongly delineated features, a mouth stretched in a grin -- what did he think was so bloody funny? -- a broad nose with flaring nostrils, eyes that were greenish, with sandy lashes, under bristly sandy brows. He had a short neat pointed beard that didn't fit with the face. His hair was yellow and seemed -- like his grin -- to shock and annoy, long, and falling forward in a slope, and in stifflocks on either side, as if trying to caricature a fashionable cut. To cap it all, he was using a posh voice; was he taking the mickey? The clerk was going in for this minute inspection because he was discommoded by Ben to the point of feeling angry. He sounded peevish when he said, 'You can't be eighteen. Come on, what's your real age?' Ben was silent. He was on the alert, every little bit of him, knowing there was danger. He wished he had not come to this place, which could close its walls around him. He was listening to the noises from outside, for reassurance from his normality. Some pigeons were conversing in a plane tree on the pavement, and he was with them, thinking how they sat gripping twigs with pink claws that he could feel tightening around his own finger; they were contented, with the sun on their backs. Inside here, were sounds that he could not understand until he had isolated each one. Meanwhile the young man in front of him was waiting, his hand holding the biro and fiddling it between his fingers. A telephone rang just beside him. On either side of him were several young men and women with that glass in front of them. Some used instruments that clicked and chattered, some stared at screens where words appeared and went. Each of these noisy machines Ben knew was probably hostile to him. Now he moved slightly to one side, to get rid of the reflections on the glass that were bothering him, and preventing him from properly seeing this person who was angry with him. 'Yes. I am eighteen,' he said. He knew he was. When he had gone to find his mother, three winters ago -- he did not stay because his hated brother Paul had come in -- she had written in large words on a piece of card: Your name is Ben Lovatt. Your mother's name is Harriet Lovatt. Your father's name is David Lovatt. You have four brothers and sisters, Luke, Helen, Jane, and Paul. They are older than you. You are fifteen years old. On the other side of the card had been: You were born .............. Your home address is ............ This card had afflicted Ben with such a despair of rage that he took it from his mother, and ran out of the house. He scribbled over the name Paul, first. Then, the other siblings. Then, the card falling to the floor and picked up showing the reverse side, he scribbled with his black biro over all the words there, leaving only a wild mess of lines. That number, fifteen, kept coming up in questions that were always -- so he felt -- being put to him. 'How old are you?' Knowing it was so important, he remembered it, and when the year turned around at Christmas, which no one could miss, he added a year. Now I am sixteen. Now I am seventeen. Now, because a third winter has gone, I am eighteen. 'OK, then, when were you born?' With every day since he had scribbled with that angry black pen all over the back of the card he had understood better what a mistake he had made. And he had destroyed the whole card, in a culminating fit of rage, because now it was useless. He knew his name. He knew 'Harriet' and 'David' and did not care about his brothers and sisters who wished he was dead. He did not remember when he was born. Listening, as he did, to every sound, he heard how the noises in that office were suddenly louder, because in a line of people waiting outside one of the glass panels, a woman had begun shouting at the clerk who was interviewing her, and because of this anger released into the air, all the lines began moving and shuffling, and other people were muttering, and then said aloud, like a barking, short angry words like Bastards, Shits -- and these were words that Ben knew very well, and he was afraid of them. He felt the cold of fear moving down from the back of his neck to his spine. The man behind him was impatient, and said, 'I haven't got all day if you have.' 'When were you born? What date?' 'I don't know,' said Ben. And now the clerk put an end to it, postponing the problem, with, 'Go and find your birth certificate. Go to the Records Office. That'll settle it. You don't know your last employer. You don't have an address. You don't know your date of birth.' With these words his eyes left Ben's face, and he nodded at the man behind to come forward, displacing Ben, who went straight out of that office, feeling as if all the hairs of his body, the hairs on his head, were standing straight up, he was so trapped and afraid. Outside was a pavement, with people, a little street, full of cars, and under the plane tree where the pigeons were moving about, cooing and complacent, a bench. He sat on it at the other end from a young woman who gave him a glance, but then another, frowned, and went off, looking back at him with that look on her face which Ben knew and expected. She was not afraid of him, but thought that she might be soon. Her body was all haste and apprehension, like one escaping. She went into a shop, glancing back... Ben, In the World The Sequel to the Fifth Child . Copyright © by Doris Lessing. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Ben, in the World: The Sequel to the Fifth Child by Doris Lessing All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

This is a sequel to Lessing's acclaimed Fifth Child, which featured Ben Lovatt. Ben's abnormal appearance and strength distinguishes him from other people. Rejected by his older siblings, he is now homeless in London. He has been fed and sheltered by the sickly Mrs. Biggs, but when she enters the hospital, Ben ends up staying with a prostitute named Rita. Rita's boyfriend enlists Ben's unknowing assistance to transport drugs to Paris, where he meets Alex and is taken to Brazil to make a movie. There, Ben meets a scientist who wants to run genetic tests on him. Ben is treated inhumanely but is excited when he hears that he may meet more people like himself. The ending is, predictably, tragic. Powerful writing from an author noted by for dealing effectively with difficult human issues, this book admirably continues Ben's story. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/00.]DAnn Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Lessing, with more than 40 books to her credit, presents a distressing sequel to one of her more frightening novels, The Fifth Child (1988). In the first book, a seemingly perfect couple with four perfect children add one more to their brood, Ben, a strange, beastlike being who throws their lives into turmoil. Lessing now catches up with Ben in his eighteenth year, although he looks more like a very hairy, nearly monstrous, and not so bright 35. Ostracized by his family, well-meaning Ben is prey for every con artist and thug in London in spite of his bulk and strength. His senses are keen, but his understanding of society is weak, and he struggles mightily to control his violent instincts and conform to such customs as baths, clothing, and cutlery. Luckily for him, women recognize and sympathize with his fear and loneliness. One of his protectors is Rita, a prostitute who, in highly questionable scenes, enjoys having sex with Ben but can't protect him from her pimp/boyfriend, who (in a rare and precious bit of narrative cleverness) makes him a passport identifying him as an actor, sends him to Nice on a drug deal, and abandons him there. A trip to Brazil and an encounter with a mad scientist are also on Ben's agenda. Lessing's missing-link hero is almost endearing but finally turns ridiculous, and this oppressively moralistic fairy tale about our persecution of the "other" remains leaden and discomfiting. For Lessing followers only. --Donna Seaman

Kirkus Book Review

Far from resting on her laurels, Lessing--who has been publishing for 50 years, and goes from strength to strength--offers this bleak monitory sequel to her harrowing The Fifth Child (1988). That novel's bewildered protagonists, Harriet and David Lovatt, found their serene family life severely disrupted by the appearance of their youngest child Ben, an uneducable, inexplicably violent "throwback" who from early childhood loomed as a dangerous threat to his four siblings and as a consequence endured years of analysis, institutional care, and, eventually, homelessness. As this story opens, Ben--now 18, but so unnaturally hirsute and physically powerful he seems much older--wanders through London, rejected by his terrified family, cheated by employers who make use of his brute strength, accepted only by an elderly pensioner who takes him in and a whore who's excited by his impulsive animal sexuality. The old woman dies, the whore's pimp realizes Ben can be employed as an unaware drug courier, and the outcast finds himself in France, then, having attracted the attention of an American filmmaker who senses Ben's deeply ingrained atavism, in Brazil--where the savagely ironic denouement takes place in a remote mountain area. Comparisons to Jerzy Kosinski's Being There are probably inevitable, but this novel operates at levels of saeva indignatio and emotional intensity undreamt of in that frail satire. Lessing eschews subtlety: underclass characters sympathetic to Ben are unfailingly good; his exploiters (particularly an amoral American geneticist) irredeemably bad. It simply doesn't matter. Ben's half-human ignorance, paranoia, and rage are magnificently imagined, and vividly present on every page. The condition of the outsider has hardly ever before in fiction been portrayed with such raw power and righteous anger--and this from an author who's now in her 80s. Isn't it about time this woman received serious Nobel Prize consideration? Few, if any, living writers can have explored so many forbidding fictional worlds with such passion and conviction. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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