‘The Luncheon’ by W. Somerset Maugham

This is the story I always quote if I want to give an example of a story with a sting in the tail. Somerset Maugham is an old-fashioned storyteller, spinning out the story of a self-important woman who flatters and then mercilessly takes advantage of a young writer living in Paris. Her recurring refrain that she never has more than one thing for luncheon couldn’t be further from the truth, as she feasts on out-of-season salmon, oysters and asparagus and drinks champagne. In a few pages Maugham creates two utterly believable characters, and draws deftly the arrogance of the woman and the vulnerability of the young narrator as he sees her eating and drinking her way through the money that was supposed to last him for the rest of the month. She goes off laughing, but it is he, eventually, who has the last laugh. It’s a gem.

(Originally published in Nash’s Magazine, London, in 1924 and available alongside with other of Maugham’s works in modern editions from Penguin)

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