Ben, in the World is a sequel to Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child (first published in 1988), which I read in Finnish just over a year ago. TFC is clearly not a novel that you should read when you're pregnant (if you want to avoid nightmares about monstrous babies!), but the sequel sounded like a safer choice: Ben has grown up and left his family and childhood home. He tries to cope in the modern world as an outsider, a freak - somewhere between a Neanderthal, an animal and a child - violent and scared, only trusting his instincts.
While TFC was more about the relationship between a mother and a difficult child - particularly from the mother's perspective, Ben, in the World is written entirely from the perspective of the child - now a young man. The novel describes how he sees the world and how the world treats him during his travels. In London, Ben is first looked after by a kind, elderly lady, but ends up with a prostitute and a drug smuggler. He travels to France, then to Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, he meets Teresa, a girl who has left her family in a slum and is trying to make her living in the city.
Ben spends his time among the rejects of society, those operating on the fringes of the law and living on the edge. But although he is a reject like them, he is still always more of an outsider, never quite fitting in, never quite human:
What was Ben? He slept in his bed, like everyone else, he used his knife and fork, he kept his clothes clean, he liked his beard neat, and his hair cut, and yet he was not like anybody.
It was especially interesting to read the novel to find out what happens to Ben after The Fifth Child, which had an open end. But the novel wasn't as impressive or thought-provoking as TFC. While TFC was almost like a horror story, the sequel is kind of like a dramatic social commentary.
Doris Lessing: Ben, in the World. Flamingo. 2000. 178 pages.
NY Times: "The Creature Walks Among Us"
Wikipedia: Doris Lessing