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on 24 October 2009
Felicia's Journey by that wonderful Irish Author William Trevor - is a wonderful story, sad - so sad - but the tension builds up slowly and the reader begins to feel uncomfortable for what they believe and think is going to happen - I cannot reveal the aim of the character in the book, as it would not allow the reader to slowly begin to realise what is happening. A wonderful read indeed and I have read it twice over the years and still shiver at certain parts of this book. A great read.
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on 19 June 2015
I’ll let you into a secret: when I was a teenager I accepted a lift from a stranger. I was travelling alone to visit my big sis’, a trip I’d made several times before with my mum but I had my nose in a book instead of my eyes on the road and contrived to get off the bus one stop too soon. Disorientated and trying to figure out where I was, a car pulled over and the man driving wound down the window. He said I looked lost, asked where my sister lived, said he knew the road and told me to hop in. So I did.

The clunk of the passenger door closing brought me to my senses, too late, of course. I felt sick. I felt stupid. I wondered how long it would be before my sister rang my mum to say I hadn’t turned up. I tried not to think of how upset my mum would be. I prayed to God to keep me safe, or if not safe, insensible to pain.

The man turned right at a pub I seemed to recognise then indicated to turn into a road I knew was my sister’s. I asked him to pull over at the top; I didn’t want my sister to see me get out of the car. I had my hand on the door release before he’d properly stopped. The relief, the release, the rush of my feet on the pavement! I might have said thank you (to the man, to God) but I can’t remember.

I mention it because without that experience I would have wondered what on earth possessed seventeen year old Felicia, newly arrived from Ireland, to get into Mr Hilditch’s car.

Felicia is particularly vulnerable, having done a flit to England with her great-Grandmother’s money to try to track down the boy, Johnny Lysaght, by whom she’s pregnant. And Mr Hilditch, 54, is particularly practised at picking up young girls; there have been “others”: Beth, Elsie, Sharon, Gaye, Jakki, Bobbi.

Felicia’s Journey, winner of the Whitbread (now Costa) Book of the Year in 1994, is little over 200 pages long: short enough to read in one sitting and subtle enough to make you want to. Mr Hilditch is neither your run of the mill sex pest nor your standard pantomime villain; in fact he’s chillingly ordinary, “a catering manager from a factory, well liked and without enemies.” Or, as Felicia thinks of it, his “soul” is “like any other soul” except it’s “lost”: “purity itself it surely once had been.” Felicia, too, is lost, to her family, to her purpose. Both reject Miss Calligary’s attempts to “gather” them into her Christian community.

There but for the grace of God go I, my mum was fond of saying. But for the grace of God (whatever God means) I could have been a Felicia...or, for that matter, a Hilditch – because as Felicia, wandering and alone, comes to understand “goodness is a greater mystery than...evil.”

This review has been a long time coming because I’ve been taking time to work out how I feel about this book. I’m still not sure I have. For its small size it certainly packs a big punch, touching on issues as diverse as teenage pregnancy, abortion, desertion, the Troubles in Ireland, murder, suicide, vagrancy, and incest.

If that makes it sound overly depressing, it isn’t. Unsettling, yes, thought provoking, yes; but hopeful too. After all Felicia is “content”; “grateful,” even. And at the last there’s the simple pleasure to be had from feeling the warmth of the sun. Perhaps that should always be satisfaction enough for anyone.

** Worth reading

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This is an intriguing, well-written book of psychological suspense for which its author was the recipient of the 1994 Whitbread Award. Written by a master storyteller, it tells the story of two people whose lives interconnect, only to have repercussions for both in the most unexpected ways.

Felicia is a seventeen year old motherless and naive Irish girl, who has become intimate with an Irish boy named Johnny. Of course, the expected ensues, and after Johnny has left Ireland and returned to England where he ostensibly works, Felicia is left holding the bag. Her disapproving father suspects Johnny of actually being in the British Army and, thus, a traitor to his own. He also has a few choice words for his daughter, now that she is in the family way, and none of it is flattering. So, Felicia leaves her rural village and her family and goes off in search of Johnny, having nothing more than the vaguest of ideas where he might be.

She crosses the Irish Sea and arrives in the English Midlands in the industrial city of Birmingham, as she believes Johnny to be working in a lawn mower factory there. In her search for Johnny, she runs into the portly catering manager for one of the local factories. His name is Joseph Ambrose Hilditch, and he is outwardly a jovial and agreeable man, well-liked by his co-workers and meticulous about his culinary repasts. He lives in solitary splendor in the large house in which he grew up. The house is cluttered with collectibles but well- kept, although decorated in the style of a bygone era. Mr. Hilditch is, indeed, a collector, but his collection is initially far beyond Felicia's imaginings. In fact, Mr. Hilditch has a darker side to him, which is not immediately discernible by the unwary.

When Felicia first meets Mr. Hilditch, it is to ask for information, but something about her catches Mr. Hilditch's fancy, and he finds himself keeping Felicia in his crosshairs. When Felicia seemingly unexpectedly runs into Mr. Hilditch again, he directs her to lodgings, and so it begins. As Mr. Hilditch insinuates himself ever so slowly into her life, weaving a fantasy about his own life that is sure to put her mind at ease about him. Felicia begins finding herself ensnared by this ostensibly kind and ever so helpful, avuncular man, and she initially fails to see the darkness that lies at the core of his being.

The author begins the book with Felicia's journey to England in search of her lover. Using flashbacks throughout the story, the author fills in Felicia's background and describes the events that have brought her to the point of making this journey. When Mr. Hilditch is introduced to the reader, the author begins to take the reader into the recesses of his mind, allowing the reader to see what Felicia initially fails to see, the duplicity and cunning that is masked by his overt geniality. Like a spider to the fly, Mr. Hilditch begins laying his trap, and so Felicia's journey thrusts her into the belly of the beast.

With his carefully cadenced prose, the author explores the darker corners of the human psyche, and in the mind of Mr. Hilditch, it is dark, indeed. As his carefully constructed psychological house of cards begins to fall, there are unspeakable revelations as to what lies at the heart of Mr. Hilditch's predilection, and it is not pretty. The author, in taking the reader into the recesses of the mind of each of the two protagonists, tries to explain how it is that each of these two flawed human beings were able initially to achieve a connection with another, only to find ostensible betrayal. What is decidedly different is the way that they each cope with that betrayal.

There is no happily-ever-after ending to this story, which culminates with a conclusion that is quite bleak, robbing the reader of some satisfaction. Fans of Ruth Rendell, however, will very much appreciate the psychological cat and mouse game that is played throughout and will enjoy the author's foray into this genre. As always, the author pens a novel that provides much food for thought on many levels, and the use of the word journey in the title of the book has a much broader meaning within the context of the story. In reading this book, fans will enjoy the elegant, spare prose that they have come to expect from this enormously talented author.
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VINE VOICEon 29 November 2014
This is an author who I had not come across before but very much hope to read again. Straightaway, there is something in this writing that connects you to Felicia's story. She has travelled from Ireland, as a pregnant young girl, to look for the father and meets Mr Hildred, a rather strange man in his forties.
The writing is superb, no unnecessary words are ever used and ever word seems to have been chosen to have a very specific purpose. All the time there is the impression of more going on under the surface than is said - what a gift!! The book should be read slowly so that every nuance can be appreciated.
It's also quite stunning that the observational qualities of the descriptions are quite breath taking. I can only imagine that the author must have waked around and around the streets looking for every small detail to be able to find the uniqueness yet, at the same time, banality. Whilst there are many sections to praise, of particular note are the dreams that Felicia has where she shows the torment running through her.
Towards the end I felt that the confusion of Mr Hildred became overpowering and took away slightly from Felicia's fate but I could not put it down, finding that even 15 pages from the end I still had no idea what was going to happen and actually wasn't really sure what had happened anyway. It is unsettling reading a book like this as it does have a plot which could easily be adapted to a thriller or crime novel but William Trevor resists that route, deciding to stay with a thoughtful and sinister novel.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 21 November 2014
Winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1994, William Trevor's 'Felicia's Journey' tells the story of a naive seventeen-year-old girl who, seduced by her lover, Johnny, finds herself pregnant, and decides to make the journey across the Irish Sea to England in the attempt to find him. Arriving in the Midlands, with only the briefest details of where to find Johnny, Felicia unsurprisingly fails to locate him; she does, however, find instead Mr Hilditch, a strange, lonely individual whom, we are led to believe, has only his job as a catering manager and his enjoyment in food to keep him interested in life. Initially, both Felicia and the reader are encouraged to feel sorry for the middle-aged, solitary and hugely overweight Mr Hilditch, but as we read on, we begin to see another side to him - a rather unsettling side, and then there is mention of other young, homeless girls he has befriended, but we are not told quite what exactly has happened to them. To say more would reveal spoilers, but suffice it to say that Felicia soon finds herself in a rather precarious situation...

As expected from William Trevor, this is a well-written and involving story, but it's also a surprisingly tense and rather grim tale, and although I was not entirely convinced by the ending, I was gripped by the increasingly unsettling narrative and started and finished this book in one sitting, staying up late so that I could discover exactly what would happen to our hapless young heroine. The author's creation of the sinister Mr Hilditch was very well-accomplished and his descriptions of Hilditch's large, oppressive house with its dark hallways, heavily plastered ceilings, old-fashioned gas lamps, and its rooms filled with heavy pieces of mahogany furniture, almost made me feel as if I had stumbled onto the set of Hitchcock's 'Psycho'. An unusual and disconcerting story with a bit of a twist in the tale, and one which although I would have preferred a slightly different ending, still kept me interested and absorbed throughout its entire length.
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on 11 August 2009
Poor Irish girl gets knocked up, deserted, seeks lover in England. And yet the story turns into something quite different and quite surprising. It's not the most uplifting book I've read, yet I read it in two goes and have thought about it since. It certainly gives an insight into the back stories of those who find themselves destitute. This was the first time I've read anything by William Trevor and I will certainly be looking for more.
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on 16 January 2014
Felicia's Journey is the story of a young Irish girl. At seventeen Felicia has lost her mother and naively falls for Johnny Lysaght who seduces her. Pregnant and desperate she tries to find Johnny in England. In the process she encounters Mr Hilditch, a fifty four year old bachelor with a psychopathic interest in young vulnerable women.

The story is written in the present tense and the perspective alternates between Felicia and Hilditch. In many ways this is a brave attempt at exploring the psychology of both victim and perpetrator. The expository style at the beginning makes the first part of the book somewhat slow and uninteresting and ultimately the behaviour shown by both characters is not credible. The final scenes with Felicia are particularly unsatisfactory. This is the first book of William Trevor's I have read and having heard much about him can only assume that this is far from his best.
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This story is a clever psychological thriller that hooks you in without you even realising what is happening, particularly as it doesn't overtly belong to that genre. It is easy to read and well paced. The heroine is Felicia, a naïve young Irish girl who has travelled to England with barely any money and only the vaguest of addresses, to search for the young lover who has left her pregnant. So the basic premise is as old as the hills in its essence. The time period is roughly 1980s, which partly explains Felicia's foolish innocence - today's teenagers are much more worldly, and reading this makes me think that may not be such a bad thing.

Of course, the reader has twigged long before poor Felicia does that her beau is nothing more than a bounder who has absolutely no intention of marrying her or even seeing her again. This storyline in itself would not hold the attention for a whole novel - it's not particularly original - but that's fine, because it doesn't need to. In fact, it's simply the backdrop for the real plot, which centres on an overweight catering manager who develops an unhealthy interest in Felicia after a chance encounter. This is where the tension and narrative drive come from and what makes it a gripping read. There is also a side plot featuring members of an evangelical Christian cult.

I enjoyed this novel partly because it was unexpected - it is not quite like the other William Trevor novels I have read - and because it kept me guessing until the very end. It was this uncertainty that I found most compelling. I did find the ending a little unsatisfying, although that is perhaps to be expected in a novel where the main aim is to keep the outcome hidden for as long as possible. Felicia is a likeable protagonist, with just enough sense to prevent her being unbelievably naïve, and her pursuer is an interesting and well drawn character, although I did find some of the later revelations about his early life to be unnecessary.

Overall, I would recommend this novel if you like reading well written fiction, and for fans of psychological thrillers who want something a bit different.
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on 28 June 2014
I read this book because somebody had compared my own work to William Trevor's. I must say that I feel very flattered!
Although a melancholy story with some troubled and tragic characters, this story unfolds with all the natural beauty of an unfurling rose. Layers gradually peel apart to reveal the secret heart; the heart might be blighted and bitter but it's revelation is exquisite. The reason for Felicia's journey, the fate of Mr Hilditch's other women friends, the nature of his relationship with his mother; they all emerge with a natural and organic grace.
Poor Felicia (beautifully ironic name) falls prey to everyone she encounters on her desperate journey from Ireland to track down the boyfriend who left her in the lurch. Mr Hilditch's benign exterior reveals a dark and predatory nature. Even the zealous evangelicals want Felicia for their own dubious purposes.
As her search - hopeless from the start - becomes more desperate, (her money is stolen and even the seedy B & B places she stays in are replaced by squats and shop doorways,) the admirable and beautiful resilience of her spirit begins to shine through. There is a curious though sad dignity in the ending she chooses for herself, the reconciliation she finds with her past and her present.
Trevor's language is deft and evocative and although some readers might find his subject matter distastefully gritty, to me there is beauty in the honesty and truth of it.
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on 2 March 2014
A shortish novel about a pregnant Irish girl who comes to England in search of her lover. There she encounters a catering manager who is not what he appears. Gradually the atmosphere becomes more and more sinister. This novel is beautifully written and very understated: there are no lurid descriptions but enough is said to give the reader a picture of what has happened.
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