Summer reading again. This time something much heavier, if shorter. Jacques Chessex won the Prix Goncourt in 1973 and was considered one of Switzerland’s greatest authors. He was variously a novelist, poet, essayist and won the French Literature Grand Prix of the Académie Française. In October last year this grand old man of Swiss letters died of a heart attack at the age of 75 whilst, characteristically, defending Roman Polanski in a public discussion. Earlier the same year he had published a novella. In the tautest, tightest, sparsest prose, Un juif pour l’exemple tells the chilling and true story of how, in 1942 Switzerland, a group of misfits and Nazi sympathisers in the bourgeois town of Payerne chose almost at random a local Jewish cattle farmer and killed and butchered him as a sort of tribute to Hitler, a few days before his birthday. Vain and clumsy, and convinced that Switzerland would soon be under Gauleiter rule, the assassins were rapidly caught and condemned to long prison sentences. Why should Chessex have chosen to write such an account? His answer comes midway through the novella: born and brought up in Payerne, and eight years old at the time of the crime, he writes of his compulsion ‘to explore events that have never ceased to poison my memory and left me ever since with an irrational sense of sin.’ Eight years old when the events took place, Chessex sat in class with the children of the assassins and of the policemen and judge. Indeed, his father was the headmaster and, as a fierce anti-Nazi, was on the list of potential targets. In telling this story shortly before he died, Chessex was not only seeking to expunge that irrational sense of guilt but also to tell us solemnly that what happened to Arthur Bloch in Payerne could have happened anywhere.