Get away from it all—including the post-apocalypse—in this luxury hotel

Sven Holm’s dystopian novella ‘Termush’ is a fine, unsettling addition to Faber’s series of classic reprints
June 14, 2023
Sven Holm (RRP: £9.99)
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Termush is a luxury hotel on the coast, where a group of wealthy guests have gathered to weather out the apocalypse. White-gloved servants serve plentiful dinners. Soothing music plays throughout the day. Underground shelters provide a sanctuary when the wind blows in radioactive dust. Doctors are on hand, dispensing sedatives. The unnamed narrator reports all this clinically, with a clear eye for their privilege: “We bought the commodity called survival.”

However, this fantasy of separation is quickly disrupted, as survivors of the holocaust reach Termush and the community fractures in its response to the claims made on them by the dispossessed. The arrivals are received uneasily, with “management” assuring the guests that their comfort will not be overly disturbed by the suffering of others.

These all-too-familiar politics are handled coolly by Sven Holm, seeming almost tangential to his real purpose; that is, to capture the estrangement of a world undergoing irreparable disruption. The stone statues in the garden loom large, as if they might at any moment animate and, towards the end of the novel, the narrator has a vision of “the day when the fish leave the water and push through the sand and earth to the trees… We see the trees bare of leaves, festooned with fishy skeletons, their skins rustling like a death-rattle.” Termush is no sanctuary.

Jeff VanderMeer’s introduction gives helpful detail on Holm, a highly regarded Danish author of realist fiction who wrote Termush in the late 1960s, and usefully sets the book between Wyndham’s cosy catastrophes and the full-blown surrealism of Ballard. Termush is a novella of great skill, a fine addition to the Faber Editions reprint series, and a reminder that we cannot escape the death of the Earth.