" Felicia's Journey" is a departure for the Irish author in that the plot is driven by suspense more than character.
Felicia's character is pretty much unformed. A small town motherless Irish girl, just out of school and newly unemployed, she's trapped in a round of housekeeping and caring for her hundred-year-old great-grandmother. The old lady is famous as the widow of a hero, killed in the "Troubles" a month after their wedding.
An ordinary girl, with no particular talents or ambitions, Felicia's keenest awareness is of her lack of prospects. Not that she plans to do anything about it. But then a young man, older than herself and back on a visit from his job in England, flatters her with his ardent attentions. And leaves her pregnant, having "forgotten" to give her his address in the muddle of leavetaking.
After several months without a word (but he doesn't have her address either), Felicia takes her great-grandmother's savings and runs off to England, looking for the factory where he told her he worked.
The first night, she wakes, and thinks of returning. "If she goes back now she'll wake up again in that bedroom. There'll be another dawn breaking on the same despair, the weariness of getting up when the bell chimes six, another day beginning. The cramped stairs will again be cleaned on Tuesdays, the old woman's sheets cleaned at the weekend. If she goes back now her father's eyes will still accuse, her brothers will threaten revenge. There will be Connie Jo's regret that she married into a family anticipating a shameful birth. There will be interested glances, or hard looks, on the street....Only being together, only their love, can bring redemption: she knows that perfectly."
Mr. Hilditch, a fat catering manager, is among those she asks for directions. He discerns her predicament immediately and is attracted to her friendless, anonymous condition. Surreptitiously he follows her, awaiting his chance to befriend her and add her to his "Memory Lane."
The narrative moves between them. Hilditch plots, remembers happy times with previous girls he "helped," and finds Felicia's Johnny with ease, keeping the information to himself. He steals Felicia's money to hasten the day she will be utterly dependent upon his largesse.
Felicia, innocent but wary, angers Hilditch by escaping him. She falls in with a religious cult but, when it's time to move on, discovers the disappearance of her money. Trevor underscores the terror of homelessness with subtle portraits of the people she meets, their offhand kindness a contrast to the circus of grubbiness, insanity and drug addiction. Sights and sounds loom larger than life. Hilditch becomes a reasonable alternative.
Felicia is not a heroic character. Hilditch, pathetic, self-satisfied and crafty, with flashes of viciousness, is the more interesting. His greatest pleasure is sitting with Felicia in one fast-food restaurant after another, eating and imagining the other patrons noticing them, taking him for her lover. The tension builds, however, with a truly repellant scene at an abortion clinic and Felicia's subsequent disintegration.
As always, Trevor's prose is both subtle and sharp, with a distinct eye for detail. And the tone is both compassionate and pathological; tension heightens as the characters' shared world grows smaller and darker.
If there's any criticism it's the stereotypical psychological root of Hilditch's obsession, a monstrous mother added, it seems, as an afterthought. Nevertheless, a fine, dark novel from a thoughtful, eloquent writer.