Theodora Keogh’s The Fascinator

Theodora Keogh’s 1954 novel The Fascinator is a stylistic departure from many of her other novels in that it follows numerous characters closely instead of one or two, and in that the climax occurs on the very last page rather than allowing room (sometimes too much room) for a denoument. The book is a slow, languid description of the build-up to an affair between a young Manhattan housewife and an older Yugoslavian sculptor. The reader knows almost immediately that they must end up having sex at some point, but the brilliance of the book is in putting this event off for so long (and thus constantly surprising the reader for the last 200 of the novel’s 250 pages) that it becomes unexpected when it finally occurs. The Fascinator is subversive like Keogh’s other works because the reader is rooting for Ellen and Zanic to consummate their flirtation even though they are both married. The mysterious magnetism between them affects us, too. The first third of the book is much clumsier than Keogh’s other writing–it takes her some time to figure out how to juggle all of the characters–but once the reader is hooked in to anticipating the sex scene and its aftermath (the latter which we never get, though it will almost certainly lead to the dissolution of Ellen’s marriage) the book is difficult to put down.

Once again Keogh does an excellent job of describing the desperation felt by her female characters in the pre-feminism 1950s. The women (even Ellen’s four-year-old daughter!) are skillful politicians, adept at wounding one another because it is the only power they have. Their viciousness is stunning because it is completely believable rather than being exaggerated, and the horrible thing is that the men are too clueless to have any idea that it is occuring.

 

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