209 pages @350 words/page
She keeps being sick.
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.
Her goodness is a greater mystery than the evil that distorted a man's every spoken word, his every movement made.
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.
Modern authors can be a malicious lot. Like onlookers at accidents they often seem to thrive on watching their characters getting flattened by life's injustices, suffering mental anguish... more
In another story by William Trevor, a woman receives the head of her murdered husband in a plastic bag. If you've read many works by this writer, you know he does occasionally allow tragic conclusions, as well as twists of plot as gory as today's headlines.
But you also know Trevor is incapable of ignoring the redeeming qualities of humanity in every situation.
So in Felicia's Journey when the teenage girl, who has run away from her rural Irish home to seek in industrial Britain the man who impregnated her, finds herself in a terrifying life-and-death fix, you don't really know if she will survive. But you do know something positive will come of it for some characters.
The uncertainty and the violent prospects must be what has led some to call this novel a thriller. But it's no slash-and-thrasher. One feels too strongly for the girl, not because she is sympathetic but because she is real. One is too caught up in Trevor's gradual unfolding of the characters, even the most disturbing ones. One wants to understand, more than one anticipates any vicarious thrill.
The story has a very similar arc to Trevor's later novel, Death in Summer (1998), in which two deaths precede a kidnapping. One knows another death will take place and one hopes it will not be the infant's, but at the same time one wants to read on in order to find a larger picture in which such tragedies can be understood.
In neither novel do we ever finally receive the complete picture but we get hints to help us grasp how certain parts of the mystery fit together. In this, Felicia's Journey is more successful.
It is difficult to decide which Trevor novel or stories should be singled out as his greatest. His low-key writing never quite rises in any one work to the grandstanding posture that says, "This is great stuff". Felicia's Journey may come closest. I don't know for sure, as I haven't read all his writing yet. I just keep reading his stories on a regular basis and he just keeps writing more.
As we put together small pieces here and there in this and that William Trevor story, we may realize that the great art may be his work as a whole.