Wednesday, January 16, 2013

524. Felicia’s Journey – William Trevor

History: This book was published in 1994.
Plot: After taking a ferry to England and beginning a hopeless search to find the lawnmower factory in Birmingham where she believes Johnny now works, Felicia encounters an older man, Joseph Hilditch, a catering manager at a factory, who is also the son of Gala, an eccentric TV chef who enjoyed fame in past decades. Hilditch regularly watches the old programmes of his presumably-deceased mother while he cooks her recipes, and collects material about his mother. Hilditch offers to help Felicia, however, his motives for doing so are initially unclear, and it is subsequently suggested through flashback sequences that he has in the past befriended but then turned on vulnerable young women. He refers Felicia to a Bed and Breakfast and offers to drive her to a factory that he suggests could be the one she is looking for, which is on the way to the hospital where the unmarried Hilditch claims he is going to visit his wife. Felicia fails to find Johnny at the factory, but while she is out of the car, Hilditch goes through her bags and steals her money. Subsequently Felicia comes across a Jamaican Christian witnessee who offers Felicia a free overnight stay at a church home. While staying at the hostel, Felicia discovers that her money has gone, and after appearing to accuse others at the home of stealing the money, flees the hostel for Hilditch's house.
Hilditch has meanwhile discovered Johnny's whereabouts, in the barracks where he is still serving with the army, but does not disclose this to Felicia. He does however tell her that his wife has died, and that she suggested that Felicia abort her unborn child. After the abortion, which Hilditch pays for, he takes her back to his house and gives her an overdose of sleeping pills. While digging out in his garden, the Jamaican Christian parishioner and a new convert enter his yard and begin to preach about Jesus. Hilditch feels flashes of guilt and confesses that he did, in fact, steal and cheat Felicia. Upstairs in the house, Felicia awakens from her sleep and struggles down the stairs. Hilditch finds her trying to escape the house, but allows her to leave. He later walks to his kitchen, where he hangs himself with a pair of tights.
Review: The most disturbing novels about murderers are the ones where the reader inhabits the killer's mind and comes to know and, in a sense, understand him. Such is the case with `Felicia's Journey', a novel that treads a very fine line between sympathy and disgust for both main characters, Felicia, a young girl looking for the father of her unborn child and Mr. Hilditch, a refined and courteous catering manager, who sets about to befriend her. Her initial innocence and snivelling about her condition, though understandable, is grating, while the friendly and gentle Mr. Hilditch, although we (and Felicia) should know better, is the more interesting and thoughtful character. What's at once troubling and fascinating about the novel is this general lack of sympathy for Felicia and the feeling that Hilditch just `can't be that bad.' I'm sure Trevor has constructed the narrative this way in order to unsettle the reader, and it works. I can't divulge one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel, other than to say, growing self-awareness is not always a good thing. I'm reminded of Hannibal Lecter, another likable bad boy. However, Lecter is great fantasy while Mr. Hilditch is the much more realistic and believable character. You know he's living just around the corner. This novel is beautifully written and unusual in every sense.
Opening Line: “She keeps being sick.”
Closing Line: “She turns her hands so that the sun may catch them differently, and slightly lifts her head to warm the other side of her face.”
Quotes: "Hidden away, the people of the streets drift into sleep induced by alcohol or agitated by despair, into dreams that carry them back to the lives that once were theirs. They lie with their begging notices still beside them, with enough left of a bottle to ease the waking moment, with pavement cigarette butts to hand."
Rating: Good.

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