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May 14, 2013

“Felicia’s Journey”

by Anne Paddock

Each time he hoped that a friendship would last for ever, that two people could be of help to one another, that strangers seeing them together would say they belonged like that.

Felicia’s Journey was written by William Trevor and awarded a Whitbread Book Award (now known as the Costa Book Award)  – a literary prize given to a book (by an author in Great Britain or Ireland) that is both enjoyable to read and appeals to a wide audience. Published in 1994, Felicia’s Journey is the story of a young pregnant girl who runs away from a stifling household in a small village in Ireland to find the boyfriend who left her in a difficult situation.

Felicia steals away in the middle of the night and takes a ferry to England determined to find the man she loves and the man she is convinced loves her. She doesn’t have much information to go on but knows he works in a lawn mower factory near Birmingham because that is what he told her. She doesn’t have an address so she seeks information and advice from locals, including Mr. Hilditch, a 54-year old unmarried catering manager who lives alone at 3 Duke of Wellington Road. While food occupies most of Mr. Hilditch’s thoughts, he often thinks of the life he envisioned for himself as an army officer and the women whose friendships he enjoyed through the years but who now live in what he collectively calls his Memory Lane. But as he knows all so well, there are “certain things you don’t say aloud; and certain things you don’t even say to yourself, best left, best forgotten.

Felicia has found a friend in Mr. Hilditch but as the days go by, things are not what they seem. A suspenseful page turner, Felicia’s Journey is a thriller reminiscent of a Hitchcock drama where the story isn’t over until the last page. I read this book on the recommendation of Will Schwalbe who read it along with his mother in The End of Your Life Book Club. In Schwalbe’s book, he writes that his mother read the ending (as she did with all books) before she started the book because she didn’t want the suspense. As I read the book, I often thought of turning to the last few pages but I’m glad I didn’t because although I would have learned the final outcome, I would have missed the twists in the storyline of the last few chapters that led to the sad but satisfying ending.

There will be charity and shelter and mercy and disdain; and always, and everywhere, the chance that separates the living from the dead.

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