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About neverendings

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  • Birthday 12/05/1976

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    The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
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  1. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

    Oh, I completely agree that they did still have some support! But the interaction with the very large extended family came to an abrupt end, and the circle of support did diminish dramatically. The grandparents had to make the best decisions for themselves after doing everything they reasonably could to help Harriet & David - one grandmother later focusing her energies on Amy, and the other grandmother and grandfather each 'adopting' one of Harriet's other children. I think Harriet & David initially took a lot of practical & financial support for granted, and even if the nature of that support ultimately altered, they still could not have got by without it. They were both very dependent on their parents, even if they did not necessarily see it that way. It seems to me that their own children, though, would not be able to turn to Harriet & David in the same way, as they grew older. They started out with a dream of a perfect family life, but they simply were not able to sustain it.
  2. Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

    I was underwhelmed by this one, I'm afraid. Some years ago, I read a book called The Serpentine Cave by Jill Paton Walsh, which is set in the same area, with definitely some overlaps in storyline (an artist mother's relationship with her children explored after her death). Throughout reading Notes from an Exhibition, I just remember having flashbacks to The Serpentine Cave, and wanting to re-read that, instead... For people who enjoyed Notes, though, I have heard that Patrick Gale's most recent novel, A Perfectly Good Man revisits the area and features some characters in common, although it is not a sequel per se.
  3. Who is your favourite Undiscovered writer?

    I highly recommend Snake by Kate Jennings - absolutely stunning prose which builds up a story of family disharmony in the Australian outback, wonderfully evoking the claustrophobia of the blue skies and wide open spaces. Another completely different but sadly overlooked book is White Stone Day by John MacLachlan Gray. On one level it's a brilliantly grubby Victorian detective story, on another, it's a thinly veiled depiction of Lewis Carroll's relationship with Alice. The two strands of story splice neatly together, and the writing is very wry, witty and readable. Oh, I can't stop there! Some of my favourite books are ones that completely flew under the radar. Duchess of Nothing by Heather McGowan is a delight of stream-of-consciousness witty wordiness with a superbly unreliable narrator; and The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt completely blew me away when I re-read it this year. It's about a child prodigy in search of an elusive father figure, full of entertaining diversions and sparkling intelligence - one to become really immersed in.
  4. I am David by Anne Holm

    I first read this book as a child then later after leaving home; I've not read it for years again, now, but it's definitely due for a re-read. It is a beautiful, life-affirming book about the power of the human spirit. The prose style is simple but nonetheless conveys an eye for small yet important detail, and has a control which emphasises rather than eliminates the poetry of the author's words. Although a children's book, it has more depth than many adult novels I have read and is hugely moving. Definitely recommended!
  5. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

    Thanks for the welcome. Okay, I will belatedly join the discussion, then. I really enjoyed this book, although obviously enjoyed is not quite the right word, as it was also somewhat disturbing! I think part of the 'horror' element for me was in viewing a society which refused to accept there might be a problem with Ben. The (few) professionals consulted offered no understanding or even conception of Ben's condition, and therefore no potential insight or hope: a very bleak outlook. Probably as a result of the parents' insistence that their child was some kind of throwback, or alien being, I was convinced that he was simply human, with extreme emotional, social & behavioural problems. For example, his father extends no attention to his son whatsoever (except for being the primary instrument in Ben's institutionalisation); he is kept locked away from his family overnight; he is kept shut away from the extended family whenever they visit. He is basically given very little opportunity to develop normal social & emotional skills, zero acceptance of self, and shown very little of what could be termed love, so of course all of these things combined would not lead to a 'normally' socialised little boy. By contrast, Amy (who is 'different' but in a different way) is initially treated by the extended family with wariness, but kept within the social unit, and ultimately flourishes. Having read the spoiler somebody posted above from the interview with Doris Lessing I don't feel any less convinced of Ben's humanity. I don't believe the concept of the throwback versus the child with behavioural problems are necessarily mutually exclusive. And I think the fact that Lessing leaves Ben's condition undiagnosed and writes his story the way she does makes for a more ambiguous and successful story, overall. Harriet and David built their idyllic life, with the assistance of and reliance upon their extended family. What I found interesting was the way this crumbled so readily in the face of a single instance of something slightly out of the ordinary: Ben. The extended family & support diminished to a most minimal level, and Harriet & David found themselves in direct opposition on how to balance the force of nature in their midst. Although they had craved parenthood, they did not really seem to comprehend the attendant responsibilities (like somebody above said, the decision to have a child is more usually a selfishly motivated act), and were not equipped to cope. They could not cope with their first four children without a lot of help. The manifestation of a child with even more demanding needs simply pushed them over the edge. I do believe that Harriet loved Ben and was motivated by more than guilt to care for him; but her care was not sufficient for his needs and came at the expense of her other childrens' needs. Ben was the catalyst for the disintegration of David & Harriet's dream. This story was for me less about the fifth child himself, and more about his impact on the family unit around him, and the way this fell apart. I am of course fascinated by Ben, and am definitely going to be reading Ben in the World, as soon as my copy arrives. I will be intrigued to see life through his eyes rather than Harriet's. I've heard of children before who simply observe what is going on around them for longer than is usual, but then begin speaking in full sentences. In Ben's instance, it just struck me as something which was typical of his 'difference' but not especially odd, in a more general sense.
  6. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

    Hi! I'm very new to this forum but just read this book last week (very interesting discussion!). Realising the last post here was 3 months ago, is it too late to add my thoughts? Would it be better to perhaps start a general review thread? Thanks for any advice.