Ben, In the World by Doris Lessing

Reviewed by Sandra at Fresh Ink Books.

Fiction, 178 pages Hardcover

UK ( 2002)

Ben, In the World by Doris Lessing is the sequel to The Fifth Child which I reviewed in the post below this one. That book gave us Ben, born into a large family who welcomed each child with celebration. Unlovable and uncontrollable from birth, freakish in appearance, he confuses and frightens everyone around him. He is violent and seems incapable of learning. In the end, though she defends him from others, even his mother cannot love him or even stand to have him around. Ben, In the World begins after he has divided and alienated most of his family and left home in his teens.

What becomes of such an angry young monster, lacking control in all matters, uncomprehending the world and people in general, prone to violence and inviting rebuke by his physically threatening appearance? There is always someone who will be a little kind with food or money to a homeless young man, though most will not. Then there are the unscrupulous who will use people like Ben for criminal activities, knowing he doesn't understand what he's doing and is incapable of communicating information about them to authorities if he's caught. Woman are sometimes kind, even tolerant to a point. But he knows they are always afraid of him. He struggles constantly against his own instincts to hurt people when he perceives mockery or even a slight. The only thing that holds him back is nightmarish memories of being institutionalized and the fear that he will be taken back there. He suffers a strong sexual drive that can only lead to trouble.

Abandoned in another country by criminals who have no further use of him, Ben is eventually spotted by a film maker who thinks of him as a caveman throwback and takes care of him while he has an interest in making a film with him. He will end up on another continent, driven by a spurious promise to find his own "kind", where he will finally come to face the reality of what he really is. Well written and brutally honest in the end, Lessing is brave enough to show us what everyone secretly thinks about people like Ben. They are unwanted, and there is no sadder fate for anyone.
I recommend it, but read
The Fifth Child first. It's worth it.

1 comment

Rose City Reader said...

Both books sound very good, but almost unbearably difficult.

Thanks for the well-written reviews.

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