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The Fifth Child

February 16, 2020

You know when you pick it up that a book whose writer has won the Nobel Prize in Literature is going to be an important read.  I picked up The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing because it piqued my curiosity. 

I was not only curious because the writer was a winner of the aforementioned prize, but also because in my own family I am the fifth child (of nine!). As it turned out, there was another similarity—a character named Paul, whose next oldest sibling was a girl named Jane (just as in my own family), but there the similarities end, and on the author goes with her story.

I’m always a little amazed at the art, or audacity (whichever it is, maybe both) of writers who write a novel with no chapter breaks. I’ve only read one other, that I remember, and it was a memoir about the Bell Witch. Somehow, this writing method seems to me to force the reader into a more intense remembering while reading. The bookmark is the only light on the reading path, and thus, one must remember where one last left off. This book, while having not a breath of witchcraft in it, was startling on several fronts, not the least of which was how the author pulled on readers’ heartstrings in a way that was very sympathetic, albeit very frightening in some ways. The book is short, and I don’t want to include any spoilers here, but it’s very interesting and worth reading; yes, a real page turner, indeed, and one that forces us to come face to face with some of our prejudices and biases, some innate, some learned.

Here is family—at its finest and at its worst, coming to grips with its own unique impressions of normal and abnormal, a story of love beset by the strongest and weakest of sentiments, by desire and its fateful fulfillment, by upheaval and its eventual settling into unforeseen realities. “The child that haunts” carried to a fever pitch….

Yukon Cornelius avatar


Paul Smethers, a former high school English teacher, is an Associate with the Adult Services Team at Main. His special interests are poetry, ghost stories, and the French Bourbon dynasty.