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      Moving Day Coming Soon   01/11/2021

      As many of you know, we've been looking at changing hosts for a while now. This will allow us to access the tech support we need for the site and should speed up the forum as well as ironing out a few issues we've been having recently.    We are now signed up to the new hosting plan and can go ahead with the move as soon as the new hosts have everything they need (which is currently being sorted!). The forum should not be offline for more than a day during the switch and hopefully it won't even take that long. I don't have an exact time or day for the move yet but this is an early warning to expect some downtime soon.   When we are offline, no matter how briefly, you can follow the forum twitter page (@bookclubforum) for updates.  

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I think that Harriet's decision to bring back Ben was influenced by her feelings of guilt over his abandonment. It is difficult to take the best decision in that situation, but I think they should have tried to find alternate care, perhaps a day care for troubled children, or some sort of therapy would have worked out better. Some would argue that that is what she did with the motorcycle gang - perhaps as that was the only option available?

 

I'm sure you are right, Maureen, and that Harriet just could not live with the guilt. It would have been a horrible decision to have to make, and she chose the survival of Ben over the safety and happiness of the rest of her family and her marriage. I don't think day care or therapy would have helped at all, I feel Ben was beyond all of that and that any therapy a civilized society could devise would have no impact on a throwback to other times. The motorcycle gang certainly seemed the only option, and at least it did give Harriet a break.

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5. What are your feelings about Ben?

One of the aspects of the book that really gripped me was that I wasn't certain whether Ben was truly a neanderthal throwback / goblin / troll, or if he had physical and behavioural issues or whether all the problems were given to him via the behaviour of others toward him. I'm still not certain, despite reading Ooshie's spoiler bit. This suits me though, as this makes the book to me as much a commentary on misunderstood youth and familial reponsibility as it was a creepy story of the wrong baby.

 

I felt so very sorry for all the children of the Lovatt family and thought they had been badly let down by their parents. I felt especially sorry for Ben though who had no voice and no-one fighting his corner for him. Even when Harriet had 'rescued' him from the nightmare he had been placed into, she still did nothing for him except threaten him, lock him away and then send him away with the teenage John. Where were the trail of experts that Harriet and David should have worked their way through to get their son help? When did the research take place to look for solutions for their clearly struggling and miserable youngest son?

 

My heart ached for Ben when it was described how he watched his siblings watching television so that he could learn how to react, as he did not have that facility within himself. There were so many steps between "I think we have a problem child." and abandoned naked child in a straitjacket.

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My heart ached for Ben when it was described how he watched his siblings watching television so that he could learn how to react, as he did not have that facility within himself. There were so many steps between "I think we have a problem child." and abandoned naked child in a straitjacket.

 

One would hope so!

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Harriet had a very difficult decision to make. If I were in her shoes I would definately have a problem with leaving my son to die in an institution somewhere, where no one knows him or cares about him. On the other hand I would have a problem with Ben effecting the other children, especially Paul, the way he did, not to mention the strain on my marriage. I think this puts Harriet between a rock and a very hard place.

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I automatically accepted the book's premise that Ben was a throwback to Neanderthal times

 

 

DORIS LESSING: I wanted to write a version of that very ancient fable. You know, the fairies put a-- an alien into the human cradle. That was-- only, instead of being a fairy, he's a throwback to some past race. And someone would be perfectly viable on a hillside, in a cave somewhere. Put him into a-- a-- civilized life. And of course, you would destroy it. So, I created Ben. Which-- well, it's a pretty horrible book, isn't it?

 

 

That's really interesting. Reading the book, I saw Ben as a child with a serious problem, but I never actually harboured the idea of a real Neanderthal. I saw Ben a cruel in his behaviour- in his treatment of the house pets for example. That would jar with my idea of a Neanderthal somewhat - when I think of a Neanderthal I imagine a slow, clumsy, uncalculating being, not a cunning cruel child who no one can understand. Somehow I never got the message that Ben is slow or stupid, as the idea of a Neanderthal would suggest.

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That's really interesting. Reading the book, I saw Ben as a child with a serious problem, but I never actually harboured the idea of a real Neanderthal. I saw Ben a cruel in his behaviour- in his treatment of the house pets for example. That would jar with my idea of a Neanderthal somewhat - when I think of a Neanderthal I imagine a slow, clumsy, uncalculating being, not a cunning cruel child who no one can understand. Somehow I never got the message that Ben is slow or stupid, as the idea of a Neanderthal would suggest.

 

Neanderthals were not slow or stupid! They actually had bigger brains on average than Homo Sapiens!! But their heads were different shape which suggests different areas of the brain were more developed and others less so than ours.

Edited by vodkafan

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Harriet had a very difficult decision to make. If I were in her shoes I would definately have a problem with leaving my son to die in an institution somewhere, where no one knows him or cares about him. On the other hand I would have a problem with Ben effecting the other children, especially Paul, the way he did, not to mention the strain on my marriage. I think this puts Harriet between a rock and a very hard place.

 

And this is actually the crux of the book and the theme, motherhood. I think it was a very good book choice. This story has certainly made me think a lot.

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Although I agree that things were difficult for Harriet, I saw her and David's inaction regarding help for Ben and /or the family as their greatest failing. So much damage to so many people, including Ben. Even when she the once sought help, she just accepted defeat in the sae way she had when she had initially fet something wrong during the pregnancy.

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Neanderthals were not slow or stupid! They actually had bigger brains on average than Homo Sapiens!! But their heads were different shape which suggests different areas of the brain were more developed and others less so than ours.

 

That may be so, but when someone is called a Neanderthal, I do not imagine an intelligent planner somehow...more someone who acts on instinct.....and I believe our ability to rationalise and not give in to instict is a show of our intelligence and evolution.

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I agree Mau.

 

Ben is constantly perceived to be this animalistic lump, yet he is also given these extraordinary power of malicious plotting. My perception of Neanderthal is very unsophisticated, purely an instinctive unthinking being.

 

Ben may have Neanderthal aspects, but he definitely had greater mental development than the accepted opinion of such a being.

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I agree Mau.

 

Ben is constantly perceived to be this animalistic lump, yet he is also given these extraordinary power of malicious plotting. My perception of Neanderthal is very unsophisticated, purely an instinctive unthinking being.

 

Ben may have Neanderthal aspects, but he definitely had greater mental development than the accepted opinion of such a being.

 

I have to disagree about Ben! I don't think he was actually malicious in the accepted understanding of the term. (Although the author does describe him as having a look of pure malice) . I think it was that that he did not understand why he should not kill the dog. To him maybe it was just some sort of prey that was an easy kill , again more of a hardwired survival instinct to kill rather than a knowledge of good and evil.

I agree the accepted opinion of a neanderthal is of a shambling sub human.

But any modern text book will tell you that is wrong. They were actually with us till only 25, 000 years ago. They co-operated together to hunt mammoths and buried their dead with ceremony and made weapons and clothes and looked after their sick. They may not have had many Shakespeares among them but they were fully human, if a bit different. I think Ben would fully fit the bill, for the purposes of the novel.

Edited by vodkafan

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I have to disagree about Ben! I don't think he was actually malicious in the accepted understanding of the term. (Although the author does describe him as having a look of pure malice) . I think it was that that he did not understand why he should not kill the dog. To him maybe it was just some sort of prey that was an easy kill , again more of a hardwired survival instinct to kill rather than a knowledge of good and evil.

 

That was how I saw it too, that killing animals was how his race survived, and it was therefore an intrinsic part of his nature.

 

I don't really know much about Neanderthals, but Wikipedia gives the following information, which seems to support the idea that they were a thinking race:

 

"Neanderthals were largely carnivorous and apex predators however, new studies do indicate that they had cooked vegetables in their diet. They made advanced tools, had a language (the nature of which is debated) and lived in complex social groups. The Molodova archaeological site in eastern Ukraine suggests some Neanderthals built dwellings using animal bones. A building was made of mammoth skulls, jaws, tusks and leg bones, and had 25 hearths inside."

 

In the book, I didn't feel that Ben's problem was that he was stupid or couldn't think, just that as a different type of human his thoughts, behaviour and actions were intrinsic to his nature and were very, very different to modern humans - particularly, maybe, modern humans in a first world society?

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That's really interesting. Reading the book, I saw Ben as a child with a serious problem, but I never actually harboured the idea of a real Neanderthal.

 

I might have found it easier to automatically assume a "strange" aspect to the book, as the other Doris Lessing book I had read (The Memoirs of a Survivor) was post-apocalyptic science fiction and had time travel, walls dissolving, all manner of weird goings on! :)

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I don't think he was actually malicious in the accepted understanding of the term. (Although the author does describe him as having a look of pure malice) . I think it was that that he did not understand why he should not kill the dog. To him maybe it was just some sort of prey that was an easy kill , again more of a hardwired survival instinct to kill rather than a knowledge of good and evil.

.

I don't think so because if for him the dog was some sort of prey, he would then try to eat it wouldn't he? If he killed the dog because of a sort of a survival instinct, it would be either because the dog was posing some sort of threat - which was not the case because this was a docile pet, or else to satisfy hunger, which was not the case either - Ben did not try to eat it. Also he did not kill the dog in front of everyone else - as would be the case if this was not pre-meditated. He knew he was doing something wrong, so he tried to hide his deed.

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I don't think so because if for him the dog was some sort of prey, he would then try to eat it wouldn't he? If he killed the dog because of a sort of a survival instinct, it would be either because the dog was posing some sort of threat - which was not the case because this was a docile pet, or else to satisfy hunger, which was not the case either - Ben did not try to eat it. Also he did not kill the dog in front of everyone else - as would be the case if this was not pre-meditated. He knew he was doing something wrong, so he tried to hide his deed.

 

This is a tricky one to think through if we are trying to give Ben normal modern human thought processes and emotions. Thinking in terms of animals, cats frequently kill things without trying to eat them, they just have that killing instinct. And my dog only pulls things out of the bin to eat if I'm not there - I think he knows I see it as wrong, but to him I am sure it seems a perfectly normal thing to do! So I feel that my dog plots or thinks things through, but I don't see that as malicious. Maybe Ben's actions could be seen more on that level?

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Hmmm good point Ooshie. That makes it more difficult then :) Let's say to him the dog and the cat were prey. But what about Amy? Would he see her as prey as well?

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. He knew he was doing something wrong, so he tried to hide his deed.

 

sorry to seem argumentative Maureen, I am really not trying to be, it's just a difference of opinion!

But I don't agree with what you have written above. Even normal children at that age don't know they have done wrong, they only know they are being told off. I have seen stupid teenage mothers slapping very young children in pushchairs and it makes my blood boil. It was obvious the child did not know what it had done "wrong" and just became scared and frozen because it did not know what to do to make mum "love " her again.

 

In Ben's case, he didn't start to "learn" until he had the bad experience of the dying place for Harriet to threaten him with.

Edited by vodkafan

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Hmmm good point Ooshie. That makes it more difficult then :) Let's say to him the dog and the cat were prey. But what about Amy? Would he see her as prey as well?

 

Perhaps if he had highly developed, more "animal" senses than we have now, he sensed enough difference in her from the rest of the modern humans he was surrounded by for her to be included in the prey category?

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In Ben's case, he didn't start to "learn" until he had the bad experience of the dying place for Harriet to threaten him with.

 

That's true, although it seems cruel, it was the only thing that enabled Harriet to control his behaviour in any way.

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sorry to seem argumentative Maureen, I am really not trying to be, it's just a difference of opinion!

Not at all Vodkafan. That is what makes this interesting! I really really appreciate people giving their point of view, especially when it is different to mine. :)

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Even normal children at that age don't know they have done wrong,

 

 

Yes but when children are doing something wrong, which to them is not wrong, they wouldn't try to hide it would they?

 

And my dog only pulls things out of the bin to eat if I'm not there - I think he knows I see it as wrong, but to him I am sure it seems a perfectly normal thing to do! So I feel that my dog plots or thinks things through, but I don't see that as malicious. Maybe Ben's actions could be seen more on that level?

 

Perhaps the first time your dog did this, he did it without bothering to see if you are there or not? (As for him it was a perfectly normal thing to do).However, in Ben's case, killing both the cat and the dog happened when no one was around. I don't know - perhaps because I always saw Ben as a boy with severe behaviour and other problems, rather than a Neanderthal, that I find it rather difficult to accept that he did not know he was doing anything wrong. If on the other hand Ben was a Neanderthal, then all rules of normal behaviour are null and void, and whatever he did cannot be judged by normal people who are applying normal standards.

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I guess I like the idea of Ben being a neanderthal. It also makes it easier to see him as "other" and justify locking him away or disposing of him to preserve the other children's quality of family life. I fall in that camp.

Harriet knew he was "other" but she still loved him.

Although she was still a crap parent and gave him to a motorcycle gang to look after so she didn't have to think about him. And later she quite accepted the fact that he was out there raping and stealing and doing violence in society. Way to go Harriet !

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That's a good point Vodkafan. When Ben grew up and was raping and stealing, Harriet did not even try to talk to Ben. She chose to take the easy way out - although his father took an even easier way out, because he did not even think about Ben any more - let alone what he was up to.

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6. Ben’s first words were ‘I want cake’. What do you make of that?

 

This is something, which in my eyes, really sets Ben apart from other kids. I makes me wonder why he never tried to speak before he could form a whole sentence. Usually kids start with the nouns - another kid would just say ‘cake’ and perhaps point to the cake if it was available. I cannot come to a conclusion why Ben did not bother to try speaking at all before he could form a whole sentence.

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6. Ben’s first words were ‘I want cake’. What do you make of that?

 

This is a bit of an anomaly in the book, as later on (although I might be getting mixed up with Ben in the World) Ben really only eats meat and fruit. Although perhaps he only learned what his body needed as he grew older.

 

Although it is probably unusual for a child's first words to be a sentence, I have a friend whose first words were "I want to go to Sunday School" (she wanted to go with her older brothers and sisters).

 

Edit: Google reports that Einstein's first words were "The soup is too hot"!

Edited by Ooshie

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