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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

New Passengers

Tine Høeg

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase New Passengers

Title: New Passengers
Author: Tine Høeg
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 219 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: New Passengers - US
New Passengers - UK
New Passengers - Canada
Neue Reisende - Deutschland
  • Danish title: Nye rejsende
  • Translated by Misha Hoekstra

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely wrought, and more substantial than it looks

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Kristeligt Dagblad . 23/3/2017 Martin Gregersen
Politiken . 5/2/2017 K.U.Routhe-Mogensen

  From the Reviews:
  • "I en række knækprosaiske tekster, der veksler mellem at være en art dagbogsnoter i stikordsform og nedbarberede scener fra et hverdagsliv, hører vi netop om et ungt kvindeligt jegs nye rod af et liv som henholdsvis elsker og nyuddannet gymnasielærer. (...) Tine Høeg har uden tvivl talent for at skrive, ligesom hun åbenlyst også har blik for komikken i gymnasielærerlivet. Alligevel kan man under læsningen ikke lade være med at tænke: Hvor nødvendig er egentlig denne bog ? Er dens ærinde ikke lidt banalt? Bliver historien og scenerne ikke lidt for fladtrådte ?" - Martin Gregersen, Kristeligt Dagblad

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:

       New Passengers is narrated by a young woman just beginning her first job as a teacher in the Danish town of Næstved, an hour-long commute from Copenhagen, where she continues to live. The novel is written in spaced-apart sentences, the narrative pared back to the very simplest -- and looking it, on the page. It opens, for example:


I've bought a monthly pass

I've been assigned a new name

a teacher's name

comprised of four letters
from my first and last names

I've been given the code to the high school network
which is changed every six months according to the principle


I've been briefed
on the systems
       New Passengers has apparently been described as a novel-in-verse, and it is a kind of hybrid, with this freer form of prose(-presentation) resembling poetry, but it also has the feel of a journal with its regular short and quick entries. So also the novel is divided into five parts, one for each month from August through December, covering the narrator's first term as a teacher. It concludes on 23 December, rather than more neatly with the end of the year, but the period she is recounting is defined not so much by the calendar as by the two great changes in her life that occurred with and on that first day of her starting her new job: becoming a teacher, with all the responsibilities, confusion, and community that goes with it, and meeting the man with whom she soon begins an affair.
       There is a 'you' in New Passengers, as the narrative is directed at this lover. She meets him on the train -- "you're a commuter too" -- and they immediately hit it off. Soon, they are having sex in the train restroom; clearly it's very much about the animal-passion: "I never wanted / someone this way before".
       Her new lover is ten years older than she is, and he has a wife, Maria, and a young daughter, Evy. Theirs is very much an affair, conducted first mostly on the train and then, sometimes, furtively elsewhere. Predictably, it gets a bit complicated. They try to be cautious:
I can't use chapstick
or scented body lotion

they leave traces on your clothes
       The narrator obsesses over the other woman -- her lover's wife -- and his family; she imagines herself in their place ("I am Maria / Evy's clinging to me"); she tries to learn more about the wife by looking up her Facebook page (with a particularly nice line having her be careful when she looks at the picture of the pretty woman: "I'm afraid I'll accidentally like it"). The narrator's account is one of some obsession: she marks the affair by listing the number of times she has seen her lover naked, for example, mentioning it each time. When he isn't on the train, she is immediately consumed by worry, barely able to think of anything else.
       All the while she is also adapting to being a teacher. Although "briefed / on the systems", it's still one that takes getting used to. A typical misstep happens when -- on a day when they've unfortunately been: "working with obscenity / invective and slang" in class -- :
I take the eraser when the students have left
but my notes won't wipe away

the marker isn't meant for whiteboards
       Colleagues are variously helpful and not -- including the one who suggests she take "a gander" at a book he smacks on her desk:
High School Pedagogy - A Primer

I weigh it in my hands and riffle through

753 pages

he's stuck in sticky notes
of different colors
       She, however, seems less willing (or able) to fit herself completely into the system (her personal distractions not helping) -- and she seems to have no compunctions about going somewhat different ways:
I'm bored by language and grammar
so I've decided to start a unit

on horror
       In relatively few words -- New Passengers's word-count doesn't go beyond short-novella length -- Høeg nevertheless has fashioned a quite rich personal portrait, and chronicle of five months of emotional ups and downs, personal and professional. Impressionistic to the point almost of pointillism in its succinctness, there's nevertheless a lot of story here. The novel is deceptive in how cut back to the essence it is; New Passengers is surprisingly full rather than simply minimalist.
       It helps that the sentences and observations are sharp and well-turned (also in Misha Hoekstra's translation), along with the uses of certain devices to contribute to a feeling of routine (even as any semblance of routine is repeatedly upset, even the dependable one of the daily commute), including the mentions of: "the eleventh time I see you naked", etc.
       Sometimes one wishes there were more, as in background foundation; a great little scene has:
my sister says
I smoke and drink too much

I say that it's cancelled out
by my reading
       But, for example, we never get much sense of her actual reading.
       Ultimately, however, New Passengers works because of all those spaces, of all that is left unsaid and not elaborated on. So also in the novel's final scene, the narrator and her lover having 'the talk', obviously marking the end of their relationship. In what could be a ridiculously overwrought scene -- beginning with the way-too-symbol-laden setting -- the narrator limits her description and account mostly to the incidental, what she sees rather than the painful details of the actual conversation; it's beautifully done.
       New Passengers is -- appropriately enough -- something of a trifle: for all the deep passion of the affair, it's clear that it will be fleeting; so also the scenes of the narrator's teaching-experiences here are the typical mix of 'learning experiences' that people have and, more or less, put behind them; all this might be recollected by her with a smile and occasional blush in later years, but it's all a kind of youthful indiscretion -- mostly a blur, but some sharp and crystal-clear bits still lingering --, a chapter on the path to adulthood but with her moving on, more or less easily, to the next. Still, it impresses how much there is to the story in Høeg's presentation. If limited to action, thoughts, and events -- there's little self-reflection on the part of the narrator -- that mostly works quite well. And while the novel is a very quick read, it's also deceptively substantial.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 December 2020

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New Passengers: Reviews: Tine Høeg: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Tine Høeg was born in 1985.

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