Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ben in the World by Doris Lessing

This is the sequel to The Fifth Child

In this sequel we find Ben Lovatt, the neanderthal, out in the world on his own. With no family or friends he is left all alone to fend for himself. So the question here is: How does a person with limited intelligence and with a lack of social skills get by alone in the world? The answer: with real difficulty as we find in this novel and also with extreme ease. Sadly, just as happiness comes easily at times, cruelty takes place just as easily too.

This sequel is brilliant in that we learn more about what is taking place inside Ben's head. A thing we kind of wanted more of in The Fifth Child where it was more about his parents and siblings and their struggle to cope with the fact of having such a "person" in their midst. The violence, the hatred and ultimately the betrayals take their toll on Ben and throughout the book he remains wary of people and friendships.

At the beginning of the book Doris Lessing speaks in a foreword about "The Cages" found in research laboratories in London. The Cages in the book have been placed in Brazil and so we know that something terrible is going to be attached to their mention. It is both shocking and deeply sad to know that in some way we could all see this coming and yet its harrowing arrival still takes the reader by surprise.

This is a harrowing book not in the graphic sense but in the questions it poses to the reader. What is humanity and how do we measure human life? What motivates us to exploit the disadvantaged and how common is it to see something wrong happening and yet not try to stop it? Can a wrong ever be righted?

Throughout the story there is a deep sense of foreboding that gets larger and larger as page after page Ben's future becomes more and more complicated. And at the end of the book not only as the reader are you at your last breath but left with a deep sense of guilt that will make you want to read the book again for Ben's sake.

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