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Cares and Troubles


By Sven Holm (Translated by Sylvia Clayton)

21 Feb, 2024


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Sven Holm’s 1967 Termush is a post-holocaust novel. Originally published in Danish as Termush, Atlanterhavskysten (Termush, Atlantic Coast), Termush was translated into English by Sylvia Clayton in 1969. This edition includes an introduction by Jeff Vandermeer, copyright 2023.

Although billions perished in the great disaster, there is happy news. Those possessed of prudence and sufficient funds were protected from the calamity by Termush’s shelters. So were the staff required to serve the wealthy hand and foot.

Emerging after a prudent interval, patrons and staff find themselves surrounded by desolation. No need for immediate concern. The hotel has ample stores laid in. The dosimeters will sound the alarm if an ill wind brings radioactive fallout. The oligarchs are free to enjoy themselves, while the staff work tirelessly to sustain them.

Prudence demands that the hotel dispatch scouts to forage for supplies, if any are to be had. The hotel’s stocks may be large but they are finite. With any luck, the nearby towns will have useful material that can be salvaged, once the burned and irradiated bodies are rolled out of the way.

It soon becomes clear that the devastation is not complete. People of no immediate use to the rich have survived. Many are badly injured. Many are starving. They have little to offer Termush, but Termush has much to offer them.

The wealthy are not utterly heartless. If a badly burned, starving person were to present themselves at Termush’s door, the rich or at least some of the rich, would consider sacrificing a pittance of their vast resources to mitigate the unfortunate’s public suffering. However, the recent unpleasantness has created a great many needy people. If Termush tried to help them all, resources would soon be consumed.

The only rational response is to dither. Perhaps a miraculous solution will present itself before the next crisis. Or perhaps it will not.


There seem to be two covers for this edition. I have used the one that did not prompt me to ask why the cover of a book set in Denmark (probably) has a cactus.

Termush’s subtitle, which I omitted, pronounces this a novel. However … even in 1967, this would have been a novella, at least as far as word count goes.

This edition is accompanied by a detailed, lengthy introduction by Jeff Vandermeer. I recommend the piece but, as is often the case when reading commentary, I recommend it as an afterword. Or perhaps after reading Termush for the first time and before the second time. 

It seems reasonable to suppose that the atomic devastation was caused by a nuclear war. However, while Termush was built with nuclear war in mind, and the facts support there having been such an exchange, the novel is surprisingly coy about stating that explicitly. This because the nature of the calamity does not matter. Only the fact that the rich have hoarded resources matters.

The novel paints an image of the rich as dull-witted, passive, and rapacious. Accustomed to obsequious service, the notion that this is no longer possible is too alien to comprehend. So too is the notion that they themselves might have to engage in constructive activity beyond giving orders1.

Termush seems much like a post-nuclear-war novel that J. G. Ballard might have written. The protagonists are alienated and ineffective, the landscape has been transformed in disturbing ways, and entropy is increasing at breakneck speed. This novella is not a comfort read, but it is a fascinating study of oligarchs who believe that their wealth is an unsinkable ship and then run onto the shoals of grim reality.

Termush is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

I didn’t find Termush at Apple Books.

1: Because the novel is narrated by the rich, it’s not clear why the staff do not offhandedly murder all the rich people. Habit, I suppose.