Critical Evaluation

One of the most prominent contemporary writers, Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. Her best-known novel, The Golden Notebook (1962), experiments with narrative form to look at the interior lives of women. Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran), grew up in Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), and moved to London in 1949. Her outsider status as part of a minority in the former British colonies, and as a woman and a communist after she moved to England, helps her write poignantly about social and political issues. In her fiction, she frequently employs elements of myth, fable, science fiction, and mysticism, but other novels, such as The Diaries of Jane Somers (1984) and The Good Terrorist (1985), maintain a strictly realistic mode.

In The Fifth Child, Lessing begins with a seemingly realistic 1960’s setting but integrates elements of science fiction into the narrative with the birth of the odd Ben, the Lovatt’s “alien,” “monster,” or “Neanderthal” child. The Fifth Child remains a minor work in comparison to her masterpiece, The Golden Notebook, but it is innovative in playing with the boundary between social realism and science fiction to address mid-twentieth century anxieties about gender and motherhood. In 2000, Lessing published a sequel to the novel, Ben, in the World, which follows Ben’s travels and recounts the hostility that he faces.

In The Fifth Child, Lessing uses a third-person limited...

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