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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Sven Holm

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To purchase Termush

Title: Termush
Author: Sven Holm
Genre: Novel
Written: 1967 (Eng. 1969)
Length: 110 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: Termush - US
Termush - UK
Termush - Canada
Termush, côte Atlantique - France
Termush, Atlantik-Küste - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Danish title: Termush. Atlanterhavskysten
  • Translated by Sylvia Clayton
  • With an Introduction by Jeff VanderMeer

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creepily effective little post-apocalyptic tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 3/6/2023 John Gray
The New Yorker . 15/1/2024 .
The Spectator . 23/5/1969 Henry Tube
TLS . 30/6/2023 Anna Aslanyan

  From the Reviews:
  • "A writer in a realist tradition, Holm extends its style and methods to probe human psychology in a devastated world. (...) Termush is an addition to the post-apocalyptic canon that lingers disquietingly in the reader's mind." - John Gray, New Statesman

  • "Despite its brevity, the book is richly textured with insights about how money shapes one’s conception of safety, and how grasping the interconnectedness of the physical world is also to grasp one’s mortality." - The New Yorker

  • "Mr Holm creates an atmosphere as hermetic, as blandly sinister as that in The Magic Mountain; his book is a grim reminder that we have escaped from the terrors of nature only to invent and store up for ourselves our own improved version of the Black Death." - Henry Tube, The Spectator

  • "The laconic prose makes the atmosphere of doom palpable. (...) The novella’s themes, which will be familiar to readers of J. G. Ballard and Cormac McCarthy, haven’t lost their urgency. Holm’s environmental catastrophe provokes reflections on climate change, and the strangers at the gates could be present-day migrants. Most importantly, Termush works as a parable of inequality, reminding us that, unless the world redistributes its resources more fairly, it will continue to be haunted by visions of dystopia -- devastating to haves and have-nots alike." - Anna Aslanyan, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Termush is set shortly after a catastrophic disaster has occurred -- clearly a nuclear war, as radioactive fallout continues to be a concern. The narrator, a well-to-do former academic, writes from Termush, an establishment that styles and presents itself as a hotel -- of a very special kind. It was conceived of and billed as a kind of Noah's ark in the case of just such a disaster as has recently occurred.
       As the narrator explains:

     When I put my name down for the hotel a few years ago, as a guarantee of help, it was because of the hotel's remote situation, its subterranean provision stores, its access to an uncontaminated water supply, its protective shelters and its assurances about security men and reconnaissance parties.
       He got all that, and, after six days spent in the shelters, he and the others at the hotel seem to have come through the disaster safely -- at least physically. There had been what amounted to practice runs before -- the establishment had sent out emergency calls three times before, though twice they had been quickly cancelled -- and this time, when catastrophe did actually come:
Everything went according to plan, just as it had been run through for us beforehand, on the lines explained in the brochures we received with our enrolment forms.
       Eerily: "we came back from our stay in the shelters to find a world changed less than a summer thunderstorm would have changed it" -- at least on the visible surface. It's something he returns to repeatedly: "The world looks as it did in the second when the disaster struck". In fact, danger continues to lurk, in the air and ground -- though the establishment takes measures to ensure the continued safety of the residents who are, for example, occasionally directed back to the shelters for brief periods of time for their own safety.
       There is also a world beyond the seemingly relatively safe confines of Termush -- with reconnaissance men sent out to reconnoiter, and report on the situation elsewhere. And there are other survivors -- and they are drawn to Termush: having sold itself with the promise that it would be an oasis in a toxic world to those who could afford it, they now find that the rabble have also gotten wind of the fact that this place of apparent safety exists. Already when the residents emerged from the shelters after the disaster four people were found dead on the steps of the hotel. Others -- sick and irradiated, to varying degrees -- followed, first in dribs and drabs, then in greater numbers .....
       As the narrator notes with some annoyance:
     No one thought about protecting himself against the survivors or their demands on us. We paid money to go on living in the same way that one once paid health insurance; we bought the commodity called survival, and according to all existing contracts no one has the right to take it from us or make demands upon it.
       In a spare tone the narrator's straightforward account presents this world that clings to a sense of order, as if 'contracts' and the like could still have any meaning in this new, ruined world -- an underlying tension of the chaos that bubbles beneath still, but only just, kept in check. The narrator just wants to go on living as he had, but his account and experiences also reveal the absurdity of the situation. His cool account of the reactions of other residents, the management, the doctor on staff, and the trickle of outsiders who make their way in show the cracks -- and, despite the calmness of his tone, how quickly they are widening. On the one hand: "the days at Termush go by according to plan; the sun continues to shine, meals are served and music flows out of the loudspeaker" -- but, of course, the world has been shattered, and the ripple effects of that can't be kept at bay, even at Termush .....
       Author Holm and hotel management alike show a great sense of control -- an effort to maintain the usual order and keep things going in the usual, familiar way, even as these are increasingly at odds with the completely broken world presented here. It makes for a very effective and deeply unsettling little novel. Holm's narrator clings to simple, realistic description, down to the very end -- almost the last hold he has, keeping up appearances, essentially when there is nothing else (which the management does as well: "Coffee and rolls are brought round" even in the short final chapter, when everything is, quite literally, at sea ...).
       Termush is a neat, well-understated variation on the apocalyptic novel, and holds up well -- not least because much here easily applies to other contemporary scenarios of a wealthy class trying to wall itself off from the catastrophes facing mankind beyond just nuclear war.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 January 2024

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Termush: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Sven Holm lived 1940 to 2019.

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© 2024 the complete review

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