I was in my mid-twenties and just beginning work on my first book when I was invited to dinner with some older and very distinguished writers. I was excited, and a little curious as to why they would possibly be interested in me. Then an email arrived naming the restaurant. My stomach lurched at the words. They had chosen the most fashionable – and expensive – place in London.
We sat down and I anxiously scoured the menu for the most affordable dish. I was not long out of university and had barely enough for a starter. The novelist next to me said he would have just one course. But my relief was interrupted by a cry of ‘Nonsense!’ from across the table and a flurry of orders to the beaming waiter. While everyone else tucked into their salmon and shellfish and I contemplated my lonely salad, I was transported to Paris and a short story I had read there a few summers before.
‘The Luncheon’ by W Somerset Maugham is and always will be Paris to me. Although Maugham wrote about dozens of places, he was born in the French capital and his easy familiarity with it was such that he could evoke it through the smallest detail. In ‘The Luncheon’, the narrator