Felicia's Journey, William Trevor
Following on from reading another Trevor novel, Reading Turgenev, not so long back and posted on here (scroll back) I yesterday bought Felicia's Journey. I had assumed, from the cover, that it was not only the literal journey of Felicia from Ireland to England, but that of a journey throughout an entire life too. But whilst it focuses solely on a particular period in this seventeen year old's life, growing up in a house of men and one great grandmother, a relic, we are reminded, from the more heroic and revolutionary days in Ireland's history, it also nods to the situation as it was in 1993/4, when the book came out.
Felicia is trapped and on the day her brother is married she meets Johnny Lysaght, a young man from the same town but who has moved to England, visiting back home only because his mother is ill. It also seems that he has joined the British Army, something which he cannot admit to and so instead he says he works at a lawn mower parts factory in the Midlands. Over the course of his week long or so stay Felicia is wooed and eventually sleeps with him. It is only when he skirts around the issue of him giving her his address in England that alarm bells begin to ring. And in the few months that follow Felicia knows that she is pregnant and knows too that she must find a way of letting him know.
What follows is her 'escape' from her home over to the Midlands, a place where she struggles to understand the accents, and where she traipses, with two carrier bags, around industrial parks and anywhere else she might find him. It is a terrible plight and Trevor balances Felicia's separate hope that she will find him and all will be well, against a bleak urban setting. And then along comes the troubled, sinister, and just downright lonely man named Hilditch.
What I loved about this novel, apart from the unsettlingly clear way in which Trevor captures the characters' motivations and psychologies as well as the geographical settings, was the way in which it focuses for the most part on Felicia, a young Irish woman who is an immigrant with nothing to her name except these two carrier bags. I have read too little of the female Irish immigrant experience considering my Mum's mother also 'escaped' what would have been a tough rural life - exchanging it instead for a tough urban life over here. We leave Felicia for a little while as Trevor has us concentrate on Hilditch and my sympathies towards him at this late stage in the story became more developed, despite what he has done. It is sinister yet all-too-human, highlighting the thwarted dreams and ambitions and the desperate loneliness that can eat away at people.
This is not a novel for those who like their novels to end on a happy note - or to even include a happy note! I never understand adult readers who have to read piles of 'and it ended happily ever after' books anyway - as though they've not quite grown up from their childhod and fairytale reading days. Life is frequently harsh and its consequences are often unavoidable - and Felicia's Journey excels in that, and in so doing offers the opportunity to understand characters on a much deeper level. I also noticed that there was a 1999 film based on the novel, starring Bob Hoskins as Hilditch and as soon as I began to read the synopsis I thought, 'oh no!' But chances are I will take a look just so that I can proclaim that yet another film has made a hash of a great book. Or not.