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
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.