‘The Three Fat Women of Antibes’ by W Somerset Maugham

This is one of the first short stories I remember reading: in the days before YA, you simply raided your parents’ shelves, although I seem to remember my mother actually putting it into my hands. Three well-to-do ladies of a certain age take a long holiday in Antibes, which serves the dual purpose of incessant bridge-playing and a serious attempt to shed the pounds. Perhaps their greatest challenge beyond reduction is to find a reliable fourth for cards; and on this occasion they believe they’ve found the holy grail in the (irritatingly slim) shape of Lena. Vivid, witty and spiteful, it is perhaps at odds with contemporary conceptions of sisterhood, but the tales of trumps taken and “antifat” rusks eaten still makes me laugh with agonised recognition of weak will and its consequent mayhem. Read it, but perhaps even better, listen to Maugham reading it on Youtube, made all the funnier by his pronunciation of the “fet” the ladies are determined to banish.

(first published in Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan in 1933, collected in Vintage’s Collected Short Stories Volume 1, available online here)

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