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Synopsis: Harriet and David Lovatt, parents of four children, have created an idyll of domestic bliss in defiance of the social trends of late 1960s England. While around them crime and unrest surge, the Lovatts are certain that their old-fashioned contentment can protect them from the world outside—until the birth of their fifth baby. Gruesomely goblin-like in appearance, insatiably hungry, abnormally strong and violent, Ben has nothing innocent or infant-like about him. As he grows older and more terrifying, Harriet finds she cannot love him, David cannot bring himself to touch him, and their four older children are afraid of him. Understanding that he will never be accepted anywhere, Harriet and David are torn between their instincts as parents and their shocked reaction to this fierce and unlovable child whose existence shatters their belief in a benign world.

Nobel Prize for Literature 2007

Me: I started this book on the bus at 8.30 this morning and finished it at 7.30 this evening and in between I went to work! I read it that fast. To be fair it is only 159 pages but it’s 159 riveting pages. I think some of it is helped along by the lack of chapters or chapter breaks. For me it means I have to keep going whenever possible to get the the end.

It’s a simple premise; Harriet and David meet, fall in love, get married and plan to fill their huge Victorian house with babies. For the first four children this plan works wonderfully but then we get Ben. Born angry and violent & slow to talk and respond the family seem afraid if him. My own son was exactly like Ben as a child. He was diagnosed with autism. There isn’t enough I think to make an uneducated diagnosis of what is exactly wrong with Ben but it scares me how my son could have been received had he been born just twenty years earlier.

My interpretation of what makes the book a horror is the 1970’s/80’s view of any one different. Society’s tendency to hide away anything and anyone that looks out of place. Family life must be perfect and anything that does not fit in with that is swept away as soon as possible. Tired of trying to find the time to give five children attention and the struggles of a violent child with learning difficulties Ben is whisked away to an institution ideally never to be seen again. Without spoiling the story what is done to someone who is still a toddler and incapable of defending himself, is quite horrific even more so when you realise it’s something that was still in effect less than 40 years ago.

There are far too many secondary characters to be able to fully follow them all. But one of the aunts has a daughter with Downs Syndrome. Again she is met with shame and a need to pretend the child doesn’t exist. The fathers of both children are the worst for avoiding reality. However possibly because this child is placid and docile she gets to remain at home albeit rarely seen.

I could go on. There’s the social snobbery of private versus public schools. Job snobbery and so on. Class divide springs up amongst the many family members. Complaints if any is the sheer amount of relatives. It’s impossible to develop any interest in any of them even, sadly the other four children. Maybe if there weren’t so many aunts, uncles, parents, step parents, cousins and distant family members I might be able to care a little bit more about Ben’s siblings. But apart from that I loved it. Best short story I have read in a long time

 

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