Set mostly in the English Midlands, Felicia’s Journey
(1994), a novel by British author William Trevor, concerns an eighteen-year-old Irish girl, Felicia, who searches the Midlands for her unborn baby’s father. During her search, she stumbles into the path of a notorious serial killer, Joseph Hilditch, who preys on wandering young women. The novel is known for its exquisite psychological characterization of the distinct figures that live in rural Ireland and England. It won the Whitbread Prize, one of the highest awards for British fiction, in the year of its publication. It has also been adapted into a 1999 film of the same name.
The novel begins shortly after Felicia is abandoned by her boyfriend, Johnny Lysaght. Felicia’s father thinks that Johnny has run away to enlist in the British army, without leaving any information, not even an address. Felicia hides that she is pregnant. Hearing a rumor that Johnny has found work in the English Midlands, she leaves home to find him, hoping that she can compel him to help raise their child.
Felicia takes a ferry to England and then begins her tedious search for the lawnmower factory, rumored to be near Birmingham, where she thinks Johnny works. At one of several factories she visits, she meets an older man Joseph Hilditch who manages its catering enterprise. She learns that Hilditch is the son of a famous TV chef, Gala, who rose to fame and fortune in the prior two decades. For an unclear reason, Hilditch is obsessed with watching the reruns of his deceased mother’s show, diligently taking notes on her speech and behavior while cooking her various dishes. Hilditch extends a helping hand to Felicia, which she gratefully and naively accepts. Thereafter, the story is peppered with flashbacks to other women Hilditch has tricked into intimate encounters before violently turning on them.
Hilditch tells Felicia about a factory where he believes Johnny is working. He also points out a bed and breakfast that will host her nearby. Conveniently, the factory is on the way to the hospital where Hilditch must go to visit his wife; Hilditch is not actually married. Felicia finds the factory and scours it for Johnny, without avail. On the way out, she meets a Jamaican Christian missionary who tells her she can stay for free at the hostel attached to the local church. Felicia accepts but loses her money soon after arriving. Deducing that someone at the hostel stole from her, she accuses several people of conspiring to steal from her. She then makes her way to Hilditch’s house.
Meanwhile, Hilditch discovers that Johnny is working for the British Army in the barracks. He does not tell Felicia, instead, pretending that he is grieving the death of his wife to elicit her sympathy. He tells Felicia that his wife had thought it would be best for her to abort her child because it might have no father. He pays for her to undergo an abortion. Then, he takes her to his home and sedates her with an overdose of sleeping pills. As she fades out of consciousness, he finally breaks the truth: Felicia is one of a long line of girls on whom Hilditch has preyed. He believes that he is “helping” the vulnerable; once they decide to leave him, it is time to “lay them to rest.”
As Felicia sleeps and Hilditch digs a grave in his yard, the Jamaican Christian missionary and an assistant minister show up to preach about their mission. The missionary tells him that Felicia had referred him to his home, mentioning that he was a compassionate but troubled man. Hilditch suddenly breaks down, admitting that he stole Felicia’s money so that she would come back. He tells the Christians that he is deeply lonely. Frightened, they leave his property. As they do so, Felicia wakes up on the upper floor of Hilditch’s house. Still under the influence of the sleeping pills, she drowsily struggles to escape downstairs. Before she can, Hilditch discovers her. This time, he lets her go. When she is gone, he hangs himself in the kitchen with a pair of women’s leggings. Felicia’s Journey
ends on this seeming validation of the criminal’s humanity.