on 19 June 2008
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.