Approx. 73,000 words
A quiet thriller
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. You know yet another death will take place and you hope it will not be the infant who dies. But at the same time you want to read on in order to find a larger picture in which such tragedies can be understood.
In neither Felicia's Journey nor Death in Summer do we ever finally receive the complete picture. But we do get hints to help us grasp how certain parts of the mystery fit together. In this, Felicia's Journey is the more successful of the two novels.
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 still haven't read all his writing yet.
While he was alive, I just kept reading his novels and stories on a regular basis and he just kept writing them more quickly than I could read them.
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.