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Felicia's Journey

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Felicia, young and pregnant, steals away from a small Irish town to search for her boyfriend in the industrial sprawl of the English Midlands, where she falls in with the fat, fiftyish, unfailingly reasonable Mr. Hilditch. He is looking for a new friend to join the five other girls of his Memory Lane. But the strange, sad, terrifying tricks of chance unravel both his and Felicia's delusions in a story more resonant than ever with Trevor's "impeccable strength and piercing ...
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Overview

Felicia, young and pregnant, steals away from a small Irish town to search for her boyfriend in the industrial sprawl of the English Midlands, where she falls in with the fat, fiftyish, unfailingly reasonable Mr. Hilditch. He is looking for a new friend to join the five other girls of his Memory Lane. But the strange, sad, terrifying tricks of chance unravel both his and Felicia's delusions in a story more resonant than ever with Trevor's "impeccable strength and piercing profundity" (Washington Post Book World).

For three decades William Trevor has been "one of the best writers at work in our language" (Boston Globe). Now, in a stunning progression, Trevor weds his literary art to hypnotic psychological suspense in a page-turner that will magnetize fans of Hitchcock and of Ruth Rendell at her most laconically chilling.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Trevor, long admired for his trenchant stories and novels, his subtle humor and broad compassion, retains all those virtues in his deeply absorbing new novel and adds a degree of narrative tension he has not shown before. Felicia is a poor, plain, rather simple Irish girl made pregnant by the first boy to bed her, who then promptly disappears to England, leaving no address. When she abandons her taciturn family to look for him, her only thought is to be reunited with a lover. But she meets portly, self-delighted Mr. Hilditch, catering manager at a factory in the grimy English Midlands, who shows her unexpected kindness, even helps arrange an abortion for her; after all, he's been a good friend to so many other lost girls, hasn't he? Wary of him at first, then resigned, finally increasingly anxious as she wonders what became of his other friends, Felicia picks her numb way among psychological minefields. What happens to her and to Mr. Hilditch, in the brilliantly evoked setting of dank cafes and pubs, homeless wanderers, revivalists and bus trips to stately homes, is the stuff of nightmare; not cynically created, but one born of deep understanding and piercing truth. This is a thriller lifted to the level of high art, and it should win Trevor many new admirers. BOMC selection. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Felicia, a young Irish woman who seems doomed to a life of cooking and cleaning for her family, finds her drab existence transformed when Johnny Lysaght, a childhood friend, returns from England for a visit. After a few idyllic days, Johnny departs unexpectedly, before Felicia can ask for his address. When she discovers that she is pregnant, Felicia sets off to find him, knowing only that he works at a lawn mower factory in the Midlands. Frightened, sick, and confused by the strange accents, Felicia is befriended by a kindly older man named Hilditch, who offers her a place to sleep when her money is stolen. What she doesn't realize is that Hilditch stole the money himself, in order to force her to accept his hospitality. Trevor, whose Collected Stories was named one of the best books of 1993 by the New York Times Book Review, has written a taut psychological thriller with an unusually effective surprise ending, reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith's best work. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/94.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
Donna Seaman
Trevor is revered, and rightly so, as a master of lyrical and psychologically sophisticated fiction. His prose is crystalline and his characters richly imagined, but none of his work will reverberate as strongly as this, his twentieth book. Here Trevor has slipped away from the rarefied world he has explored in the past and infiltrated territory we would usually associate with the thrillers of Hitchcock or the novels of Ruth Rendell. The story begins in a small Irish town where an innocent young girl is seduced by a rogue who claims to work at a lawn-mower factory in England. Pregnant and distraught, she runs away to find her errant lover. As soon as she arrives, she comes to the attention of Mr. Hilditch, a fastidious fat man with tiny hands who, now that mother is dead, lives alone. The enigmatic Mr. Hilditch is as interested in troubled young women as he is in food and soon contrives to assist Felicia in her quest. She reluctantly accepts a ride, then goes off on her own, but after a series of disasters, including a brief interlude with a cult of religious fanatics, Felicia ends up, once again, accepting Hilditch's kindness, although she, and we, have a very bad feeling about him. As they circle round each other like a cautious quarry and a nervous hunter, Trevor holds us rapt with curiosity and fear. All this is as creepy, brilliant, and involving as one could desire, but it is the novel's unbelievably moving conclusion that gives it wings and lifts it far, far above the ordinary, taking our breath away.
From the Publisher
"Brooding, brilliant...One of the most evocative and original books to be published in recent years...Trevor weaves a web of suspense and apprehension that is at once terrifying and believable." —The London Free Press

"In reading this rich, riveting novel, the reader basks in the glow of Trevor's compassion and the consummate integrity of his pure poetic skills." —The Globe and Mail

"Perfectly executed and chilling...Mr. Trevor is able to turn the stuff of lurid, tabloid headlines into a sad and oddly moving tale of lost opportunities and misplaced hopes." —The New York Times

From Barnes & Noble
This chilling portrait of a serial killer begins with Felicia, young & pregnant, who steals away from a small Irish town to search for her boyfriend. Her quest takes her through surprising & sometimes deadly turns. "...transcends mere genre fiction."-- Kirkus Reviews.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670857456
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/12/1994
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.29 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

William Trevor
William Trevor was born in Cork in 1928.  He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and has spent a great part of his life in Ireland.  Since his first novel, The Old Boys, was awarded the Hawthorne Prize in 1964, he has received many honours for his work including the Royal Society of Literature Award, the allied Irish Banks Prize for Literature and the Whitbread Prize for fiction.  He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and he has bee awarded an Honorary CBE.  His most recent books are Two Lives and The Collected Stories of William Trevor.

Biography

"William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence," Brooke Adams once wrote in the New York Times Book Review. Hailed by the New Yorker as "probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language," Trevor has also written over a dozen acclaimed novels as well as several plays. His characters are often people whose desires have been unfulfilled, and who come to rely on various forms of self-deception and fantasy to make their lives bearable.

Trevor was born in 1928 to a middle-class, Protestant family in Ireland. After graduating from Trinity College with a degree in history, he attempted to carve out a career as a sculptor. He moved to England in 1954 and exhibited his sculptures there; he also wrote his first novel, A Standard of Behavior, which was published in 1958 but met with little critical success. His second novel, The Old Boys, won the 1964 Hawthornden Prize for Literature and marked the beginning of a long and prolific career as a novelist, short-story writer and playwright.

Three of Trevor's novels have won the prestigious Whitbread Novel of the Year Award: The Children of Dynmouth, Fools of Fortune and Felicia's Journey. Felicia's Journey, about a pregnant Irish girl who goes to England to find the lover who abandoned her, was adapted for the screen in 1999 by director Atom Egoyan. Trevor, who has described himself as a short-story writer who enjoys writing novels, has also written such celebrated short stories as "Three People," in which a woman who murdered her disabled sister harbors an unspoken longing for the man who provided her with an alibi, and "The Mourning," about a young man who is pressed by political activists into planting a bomb (both from The Hill Bachelors).

Some critics have noted a change in Trevor's work over the years: his early stories tend to contain comic sketches of England, while his later ones describe Ireland with the elegiac tone of an expatriate. Trevor, who now lives in Devon, England, has suggested that he has something of an outsider's view of both countries. "I feel a sense of freshness when I come back [to Ireland]," he said in a 2000 Irish radio interview. "If I lived in, say, Dungarvan or Skibbereen, I think I wouldn't notice things."

As it stands, Trevor is clearly a writer who notices things, just as one of his characters notices "the glen and the woods and the seashore, the flat rocks where the shrimp pools were, the room she woke up in, the chatter of the hens in the yard, the gobbling of the turkeys, her footsteps the first marks on the sand when she walked to Kilauran to school" (The Story of Lucy Gault). Yet as Trevor told an interviewer for The Irish Times, "You mustn't write about what you know. You must use your imagination. Fiction is an act of the imagination." Trevor's fertile imagination captures, as Alice McDermott wrote in The Atlantic, "the terrible beauty of Ireland's fate, and the fate of us all -- at the mercy of history, circumstance, and the vicissitudes of time."

Good To Know

When Trevor was growing up, he wanted to be a clerk in the Bank of Ireland -- following in the footsteps of his father, James William Cox. Cox's career as a bank manager took the family all over Ireland, and Trevor attended over a dozen different schools before entering Trinity College in Dublin.

Trevor married his college sweetheart, Jane Ryan, in 1952. After the birth of their first son, Trevor worked for a time as an advertising copywriter in London. He also sculpted and worked as an art teacher, but gave up his sculpting after it became "too abstract."

In addition to the 1999 film Felicia's Journey, two other movies have been based on Trevor's works: Fools of Fortune (1990), directed by Pat O'Connor, and Attracta (1983), directed by Kieran Hickey. According to Trevor's agent, the plays Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria are also being adapted for the screen.

Trevor is also the author of several plays, most of which are not in print in the U.S. Works include Scenes from an Album, Marriages, and Autumn Sunshine.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Trevor Cox (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      Devon, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 24, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Trinity College, Dublin, 1950

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

William Trevor has long been hailed as one of the "very best writers of our era" (The Washington Post). In both his short stories and his novels, Trevor manages to shed light on the darkest corners of the human heart. It is no surprise, then, that with Felicia's Journey Trevor uses his gifts as a master storyteller—spare, lyrical prose; a tightly woven story; and finely drawn characters—to turn out this psychological thriller.

 

ABOUT WILLIAM TREVOR

William Trevor is the author of twenty-eight books, which include novels, short story collections, a play, a volume of memoir, and a children's tale. Among his many prizes are a 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. Two of his books were chosen by The New York Times as Best Books of the Year. His short stories appear regularly in The New Yorker.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM TREVOR

Felicia's story is sad, but one that is all too common. Many young, pregnant Irish girls travel to England either to terminate a pregnancy or simply to escape the shame that is visited upon them by their families and communities. There was a very famous and controversial case in 1992 of a fourteen-year-old Irish girl who traveled to England to have an abortion. Did this particular story influence the writing of Felicia's Journey

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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Reading Group Guide

An Introduction to
Felicia's Journey

William Trevor has long been hailed as one of the "very best writers of our era" (The Washington Post). In both his short stories and his novels, Trevor manages to shed light on the darkest corners of the human heart. It is no surprise, then, that with Felicia's Journey Trevor uses his gifts as a master storyteller—spare, lyrical prose; a tightly woven story; and finely drawn characters—to turn out this psychological thriller.

Felicia, the unlikely heroine of the story, is a young Irish girl from a strongly conservative Republican family. Having lost her job at the local meat-canning factory, she is forced to stay at home to care for her widowed father, two brothers, and great-grandmother. Just when she begins to lose all hope of escaping the gloom of her existence, a charming man called Johnny Lysaght returns home from England to visit his mother. It doesn't take long for Johnny to seduce the naive and impulsive Felicia. Nor does it take long for him to return to England, leaving Felicia pregnant and with no forwarding address. Once her family discovers her secret, and realizes that the baby's father is a traitor—having joined up with the British Army—Felicia is tossed out of the house and goes to England in search of her lover. It is a quest that will prove futile. Johnny has told her that he works in a lawnmower factory in the Midlands, but it soon becomes clear to everyone but Felicia that he has willfully deceived her.

A combination of innocence and faith keeps Felicia wandering, and ultimately delivers her into the hands of Mr. Hilditch, an outwardly decent man who appears to come to her rescue. But the more benevolent Mr. Hilditch becomes, offering Felicia cups of tea, a meal, and a bed for the night, the more his predatory nature reveals itself. And although the reader slowly realizes that Mr. Hilditch is a monster, planning to add Felicia to his collection of girls in his "Memory Lane," there is something so lonely and pathetic about him that one can't help but feel some compassion for him.

Felicia's journey brings heartache to those around her—her father, heart-sick after denouncing her; Johnny Lysaght, lying on the ground bleeding after being beaten by Felicia's brothers; and even Mr. Hilditch, slipping increasingly into insanity, finally fully aware of the horrors he has committed. In the end, Felicia returns to the streets where she once searched for Johnny Lysaght, alone and homeless, but liberated—from Johnny, from the memory of her dead mother, from her controlling father, and, most of all, from Mr. Hilditch's "Memory Lane."


AUTHOR INTERVIEW
A Conversation with William Trevor

Felicia's story is sad, but one that is all too common. Many young, pregnant Irish girls travel to England either to terminate a pregnancy or simply to escape the shame that is visited upon them by their families and communities. There was a very famous and controversial case in 1992 of a fourteen-year-old Irish girl who traveled to England to have an abortion. Did this particular story influence the writing of Felicia's Journey?

No. As you say, many young Irish girls make journeys quite similar to Felicia's—although she, of course, was far from seeking an abortion.

You often refer to Eamon De Valera in Felicia's Journey and in your other works. What influence did he have on you and do you agree with his vision of Ireland? What role did politics play in your upbringing?

I do agree with De Valera's vision of Ireland, although often my characters either don't understand or wholly misunderstand it. Politics played no part in my upbringing.

Your characters are marked by a certain fatalism. Do you think this is a particularly Irish trait?

I don't think so. I don't think of my characters as being marked in that particular way; some are, some are not, but it never seems to me to be the most vigorous characteristic.

In Felicia's Journey, you depict the world of the homeless with haunting realism and empathy. How did you gain such an understanding of this world?

Observation and, again, imagination.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. How does Trevor portray the differences between the English and the Irish landscapes? How does the Ireland Felicia leaves differ from that of De Valera's dream, the Ireland "whose fields would be joyous with the sound of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, with the laughter of comely maidens"?
  2. Trevor never describes what has happened to Mr. Hilditch's girls in "Memory Lane"—Sharon, Jakki, Elsie, and Gaye. What effect does this have on the story? What does this lack of information reveal about Hilditch himself?
  3. What effect does the ending have? Would Felicia have been better off staying in Ireland? Why does she seem to accept her final fate so readily?
  4. Both Hilditch and Felicia are haunted by memories of their mothers. How are both mothers portrayed in the novel? How is each character controlled by these memories?
  5. What is the significance of music in the novel? What does the music Hilditch listens to reveal about him?
  6. What does Hilditch's final visit to the Spa foreshadow? What does the Spa represent?
  7. What ultimately allows Felicia to escape Hilditch's house?
  8. What impression of Johnny Lysaght do we have? How does Trevor portray him?
  9. Is Felicia truly an innocent at the end of the novel, or has she gained a deeper understanding of the hand that fate has dealt her?
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 30, 2014

    The stalker patiently and slyly entrapped his prey. It was just

    The stalker patiently and slyly entrapped his prey. It was just a matter of when and where; not if. The novel Felicia's Journey is a fascinating look into the mind of an outwardly seemingly normal man who adeptly covered up inner demons. Set in pre-birth control days, Felicia was thrust into the painful situation of being a pregnant teenager. With few clues regarding the whereabouts of the father of her baby, she left her homeland of Ireland and fled to England. Her story unravels as the reader becomes more and more interested in Felicia's fate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2005

    Fantastic

    Simply out standing, if there were better words to describe this book I would say them. The characters were portrayed perfectly as well as the plot. I won't go into any details of this book because it is a greater excitement going into a book knowing nothing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2000

    Unable to comprehend

    I am unable to understand what the fuss is about this book. Nor can I understand for what reason it won the Whitbread Prize in 1994. Set in in the present tense it is daring but slow and mired in detail of surroundings.Trevor is master of those things that are banal and that we perform subconsciously everyday like the dipping of a biscuit into tea. In the slowness of the book tension is built and it's true that Felicia's Journey does read very close to the lines of a thriller.But it falls outside that in it's close apposition to the minds of the two main characters and other characters.This is the question that I beg to ask: does fine literature have to look to serial killers and those psychopaths that we would not rather talk about to find it's theme ? I was under the impression that this was the domain of thrillers and bestsellers. Not to put too fine a word on it , do I dare say that Felicia's Journey is common? Obviously not. That is not to say that, however , that I do not appreciate the difference that William Trevor adds to this theme.The only thing is if I had known I would have won the Whitbread Prize I would have written it earlier or wasn't it wriiten earlier when Thomas Harris wrote Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs ... and Hannibal?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2010

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