A Summer in M.

Robin Corminboeuf

French, Paulette, Lausanne, 2023

“I left M. when I was eighteen and went to live in Lausanne—the city the young people were heading to when they stopped at the petrol station where I worked nights, heating up frozen pizzas for them. For a long time I thought my secret would lead me to certain death. Going away saved me.”

“Hard to say why my father never resented his grandmother. He’d dreamed of being a cook. ‘It was different in those days,’ my mother explains. ‘In the country, you did what needed doing.’
‘Being a landowner isn’t half bad, you know,’ my father adds, with a certain pride.”

A fiery and tender novel of late adolescence set in the drought-stricken landscape of the Swiss countryside (Fribourg). Coming of age in a changing society, the narrator discovers the troubling sensuality of male bodies and his father’s struggles to keep the family farm afloat.

The narrator was eighteen when he left the village of M. to move to Lausanne. Fifteen years later, as he heads back to his parents’ for Sunday dinner, a notification on his phone tells him that his first lover, K., has committed suicide. Memories and emotions flood him. He remembers the last summer of his adolescence, the heat of the tobacco fields, the intensity of his first love, his preoccupation with being ‘normal’. He recalls desires, compromises and weaknesses—his and those of others.

              In a clear, flowing, subtle style, Corminboeuf gives us glimpses into people’s lives and allows us to feel with them. There is the narrator’s father, pained and exhausted by his work on the farm, who watches his crops turn yellow and knows he will never find anyone to take over the family legacy and the troubles of the profession. There is Pernette, his colleague at the petrol station, who is almost sixty-five, but works from eleven at night until seven in the morning, because it puts ‘butter on the bread’ and probably also whisky in her coffee. There are his friends Étienne and Valentin, who are tentatively discovering girls and parties. And there is the narrator himself, who tries, desperately, to be like them, scanning erotic films on RTL9 for images that will tell him how to act with his first girlfriend.

              But nothing, of course, is that easy. What excites the narrator’s senses—what makes him ‘grow towards greater freedom’—is his encounter with K., his skin, his kisses, his body. Unlike other gay coming-of-age stories with rural settings, this novel is neither violent, nor bitter, nor effusive, but sober, quietly sensual and highly visual. Without unnecessary effects, Corminboeuf gives us a short, simple and well-constructed novel, in which every scene is vividly imagined. His astute study of homoerotic experience is coupled with an equally subtle portrayal of the agricultural profession, the impact of the ecological catastrophe, the contrasts between urban and rural life and the issue of class. This is a book full of empathy that neither sensationalises nor victimises, a rich text written in lucid, arresting prose.

Text by Alice Bottarelli

Un été à M.
Paulette, Lausanne
Translation rights
Guy Chevalley, contact@paulette-editrice.ch
Publication date
May 2023


Robin Corminboeuf

Born into a family of farmers, Robin Corminboeuf undertook an apprenticeship in interior design and studied sociology in Lausanne and London (London School of Economics) before becoming the editor-in-chief of the LGBTIQ+ magazine 360°. Un été à M. is his first novel.

Photo:  © Christiane Nill