If there is anything to be said for the trend of rescuing lost ‘classics’, it is that occasionally a book is unearthed whose uncommon prescience was unknowable in its own time. And Termush (1967), this slim and unsettling parable by Sven Holm, is nothing if not prescient.
Its setting is a luxury coastal resort in the wake of nuclear apocalypse (today, one only has to think of Peter Thiel and other billionaire preppers to recognise the prohibitive price of a ‘commodity called survival’ in the event of mass extinction). And the style—a kind of affectless recounting of the brute facts—captures the simultaneous experience of crippling terror with benumbing ennui that is so familiar in our time. When their immense privilege is threatened by the discovery of desperate survivors (‘strangers’) from beyond the edges of their bubble, a conflict grows among the guests of Termush. The form it takes—a struggle between a faceless, technocratic hotel management trying to quell their fears, and a rogue, demagogic chairman trying to play on them—resembles the political dynamic of the last decade almost exactly.
Prescience is one thing, but if Termush proves itself worthy of saving, it is for something more timeless; namely the penetrating force of its vision, where cracks in the facade of civilisation seem ‘suddenly to reveal the innermost, vulnerable marrow… the sensitive growth tissue, the chalk, the iron, the blood.’
Words: Diarmuid McGreal