‘The Other Wife’ by Colette


The Other Wife by Colette, 1924

The magic trick:

Implying a lifetime in two-and-a-half pages

This is a very short story, yet it doesn’t lack for richness or depth. Colette drops little hints along the way that allow the reader’s imagination to run wild, filling in back stories and jumping to conclusions. The new wife, Alice, shows just enough insecurity, and Marc, the husband, shows just enough dissatisfaction, so that by story’s end the reader isn’t sure to whom the titular other wife refers – Alice or the ex. And that’s quite a trick on Colette’s part.

The selection:

“She’s just difficult!”

Alice fanned herself irritably, and cast brief glances at the woman in white, who was smoking, her head resting against the back of the cane chair, her eyes closed with an air of satisfied lassitude.

Marc shrugged his shoulders modestly.

“That’s the right word,” he admitted. “What can you do? You have to feel sorry for people who are never satisfied. But we’re satisfied . . . Aren’t we, darling?”