The answer is 18. Ben is 18. This is a sequel I didn’t like to a book I didn’t like. Oddly, and I have ended up reading a lot of Doris Lessing in the interim, the first book in this series The Fifth Child is the first book I ever read from Doris Lessing. I read it shortly after she won the Nobel Prize, and I was kind of annoyed because I just didn’t think it was very good. It’s about a fifth child of a couple that really sees itself as liberal and fair-minded, and the child is kind of unexpected, and comes out looking physically repulsive (to them, they tell us) and they end up rejecting it and it suffers a horrific childhood as a consequence. It’s a kind of Frankenstein story, a kind of “Love Me I’m a Liberal” story, and a kind of We Need to Talk about Kevin story (the novel, not the film so much). Of all the things it was, it felt pretty self-contained. This also short novel came out nearly twenty years after, and perhaps Lessing had it timed to coincidence with his age in the book. The result is a now 18 year old Ben is a fragile, lost the world wayward young adult who requires the kindness of strangers to guide him through a world that is too dangerous for his benighted childhood. As you can imagine, the world, being shit, does him no additional favors. It’s tied now for the worst Doris Lessing that I’ve read. It’s also the first of hers I’ve read as she published into the 2000s, so that also might be an indicator of how I feel about it.