The book I take on my walk today is Termush by Sven Holm, a novella translated from the Danish by Sylvia Clayton. This is one of the new Faber Editions titles: a series of short, reissued classics by Faber & Faber. Their tagline is “books for the future, rooted in history.” The books in this series are so small that Termush easily fits into my dungaree pocket, and off I go.
I take the tube to King’s Cross and walk up towards Regent’s Canal. There’s a bookshop on a boat moored by Granary Square called Word on the Water, and I start my walk there, where two wonderfully scruffy dogs are guarding the books. I head west, following the canal in the direction of Camden Town. On the opposite side of the water there’s a small nature reserve, and St Pancras Lock which, for some reason, always reminds me of station porter Albert Perks’ office in The Railway Children. Further along, a bright white cat hops off one of the narrowboats and its owner whistles after it, brandishing a tin of sardines.
Walking along Regent’s Canal is one of my favourite things to do on a warm day. You can go east from King’s Cross and follow it all the way to the Thames, but I prefer going west; it feels like a secret walkway through the city. It’s only 20 minutes from King’s Cross to Camden Market, where there are plenty of food options if you fancy stopping (I’d recommend The Yorkshire Burrito for a Sunday roast), but I don’t stop for lunch today. Walking past the food stalls, I see rows of petrol-coloured starlings ready to pick up any crumbs, and a heron perched atop Camden lock.
The most beautiful street on this walk is just past the market, where the canal snakes along St. Mark’s Crescent. Willow trees line the other side, and I spy a boat named after a character in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. St Mark’s Church is on the corner, and there are several benches in its garden, so I stop there to read the beginning of Termush by Sven Holm, looking out over the water. First published in the 1960s, eight years before High-Rise by J. G. Ballard, this is a post-nuclear disaster novel set in a coastal resort called Termush, where the very rich invested in rooms and radiation shelters long before the apocalypse, hoping to ensure their own survival.
We follow an unnamed narrator who lives on the top floor of this complex. He feels a dizziness that may be due to radiation, but is just as likely caused by anxiety and guilt, as he watches those without money trying and failing to gain access to Termush. It’s a creeping, deeply unsettling novel. My very short elevator pitch would be: White Lotus at the end of the world.
After a couple of chapters, I put the book back in my pocket and continue my walk, following the curve of the canal where it runs alongside London Zoo. From the canal path, you can see African wild dogs (also known as “painted wolves”), and a warthog or two. From this point, the towpath continues on towards Little Venice and beyond, but I decide to come off here, crossing the bridge into Regent’s Park. I wander past the boating lake, through the Japanese garden island, and into Queen Mary’s rose gardens. At this time of year, the flowers are about to turn but some are still in bloom: I see oranges, pinks, reds and violets, and the garden smells incredible.
I sit on a bench here to read a little more of Termush. It’s not a plot-heavy book, more a claustrophobic introspection on morals. The narrator knows he should want to help people, but he’s worried about dwindling supplies. He cowardly hopes other people will make the right decisions for him, at one point grabbing the hotel doctor, saying, “don’t you want to help the injured?”, to which the doctor replies, coolly: “the sick are my stock in trade.” Ironically, the narrator is appalled that anyone could be so cold. As the Termush community (if it ever was one) falls apart, it’s clear that it’s every man for himself.
I’d recommend Termush for fans of science-fiction writer John Wyndham, though my favourite Faber Editions title so far has been Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls; a fable-like novel about a grieving mother who falls in love with Larry, a man who is part-man, part-frog. Next on my to-be-read pile from the series is They by Kay Dick, another dystopian title, written by George Orwell’s editor, who has been credited as the first woman director in English publishing.
The Faber Editions series is out now.
Jen Campbell is a bestselling author and disability advocate. She has written twelve books for children and adults, the latest of which is Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit. She also writes for TOAST Book Club.