Harriet and David Lovatt want the same things - fidelity, love, family life and above all a permanent home. Stubbornly out of line with the fashions of the 1960s they decide to marry and lay down the foundations of their haven in a rambling Victorian house.
At first, all is idyllic. Children fill their lives and re-united relatives crowd round the kitchen table at Christmas and Easter, greedily enjoying the warmth and solidity of the Lovatts home. It is with the fifth pregnancy that things begin to sour. The baby moves inside Harriet too early, too violently. After a difficult birth, he develops faster and grows much bigger than ordinary infants; he is unloving and instinctively disliked by his brothers and sisters. Inexorably, his alien presence wrecks the dream of their happy family. Harriets fear grows as she struggles to love and care for the child, finding herself faced with a dark sub-continent of human nature, unable to cope.
With The Fifth Child Doris Lessing triumphs in a realm of fiction new to her. She has written an ominously tangible novel, a powerfully simple contemporary horror story that makes compulsive reading to the last word.