Danish writer Tine Høeg discusses line breaks, desire and and narrative puzzles.
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Tine – I love New Passengers. It’s such a rich book. It takes the kind of novel-in-verse form that publicists might call ‘experimental’, but I don’t think it’s that at all (I hope you take that in a good way). Narrative told through broken lines of thought and action and speech, unpunctuated, feels true-to-life. And whilst it might not be the norm of what we’ve been told over the last few centuries that a ‘novel’ looks like, it is a mode of storytelling that has been used since time immemorial. Could you talk to me about your use of form? I think it’s utterly compelling.
I perceive of my book as a series of images or scenes that are put together into a narrative. A kind of hybrid between prose, poetry and drama. I’m very happy to be able to challenge people’s expectations of what a ‘real’ novel looks like, but I hadn’t planned that before I started writing. The shape was determined by the content. I try to let individual elements stand out, give them space, and shed several meanings. The use of the break is absolutely essential, too. The empty spaces on the pages are in a way part of my vocabulary. There can be just as much meaning hidden in the spaces as in the words themselves.
I sense that you are meticulous with your line breaks – at times meticulous in making them almost disingenuous. Perspectives shift, times shift, places shift, voices shift between lines. We are suddenly in and out of dreams and projections. I’d like to hear you speak a bit about those line breaks, and what they achieve.
I like to let the individual lines stand vibrating a little before they ‘land’. Is it an answer, an observation, a dream? And to what or whom is the line connected? I like that one has to read a little further down the page to put the pieces of the puzzle together. In that way, I demand something from the reader – the scene doesn’t unfold until it reaches the reader’s mind and develops there. At the same time, I hope and believe that it feels intuitive. The puzzle is also a rhythmic or melodic one; I read everything aloud to myself many times, and the words have to feel right to me in my mouth. It has to feel like a kind of music when speaking them aloud – and here the line breaks are very important.
This feels like a very bodily book – full of lust but repulsion, and arresting images of spit. Talk to me about bodily fluids and bodies.
Desire plays an important role in New Passengers, and the relationship between the narrator and the married man is primarily physical. An immediate, overwhelming attraction – almost like a hunger. I want the reader to feel that hunger. There’s also a paradox in the main character: she is extremely much so inside her own head, and at the same time has to follow the strong physical signals of her body. She is inhibited and uninhibited.
How closely did you work with Misha Hoekstra during his (consummate) translation of the book? You speak and read English, and I’m always interested in how author-translator collaborations proceed when both individuals share both languages.
Misha and I collaborated closely, and I had the opportunity to read everything through and comment. I am deeply impressed with his sensitive, beautiful translation, and for the gifted choices he has made along the way. Not everything can be translated directly. For example, there are a lot of specifically Danish expressions and concepts from the school system, and a lot of humour related to Danish grammar and classic spelling mistakes. Here, he really has had to be creative in order to preserve the humour and ambiguity of the original. It was very touching for me to read his translation the first time. As mentioned earlier, I work a lot with rhythm and musicality in every line of text, and it has been a great satisfaction for me to see that he has been able to preserve those elements in his translation.
Your second book – Tour de chambre – isn’t yet translated into English. But I understand that it shares some of New Travellers’ interests: places of ‘education’ (a college dormitory in the former, and a school in the latter), heavy drinking, a young woman working through multiple complexities in life. What draws you to these shared interests?
I have written two novels about young women in some kind of transition or existential crisis, and both books deal with a feeling of inadequacy in ‘adult life’. But, really, the central content is far more archetypal: to covet someone you do not have access to, or the right to approach, and the moral dilemmas connected to that. It is detached from age, and I think this is also why my books have gained so many readers. Everyone can relate to this narrative in one way or another. Intense desire is a key concept for me. Not only the physical desire or lust as in New Passengers, but also the desire to write and create – the artistic desire – which plays a big role in Tour de chambre. Desire for motherhood also occupies me a lot. Desire in all its guises – and perhaps especially those attached to the female body.
Finally, why is our narrator in New Passengers a teacher?
Taking on the role of a teacher requires an enormous amount of personal authority. You must be in command and take control of things. It created a fruitful contrast for me to place the narrator in that frame when, in many ways, she feels out of control. Like a body in a mental free-fall. It’s a fun or interesting clash. She is a teacher, but in many ways she feels more akin to her students. She is in a limbo between adulthood and youth, free-floating, and not a part of any community.
Tine Høeg (b. 1985) is a Danish author. Her novel New Passengers won Bogforum’s Debutantpris, the prize awarded each year for the best literary debut published in Denmark. Høeg’s own adaptation of the novel has been staged at the Royal Danish Theatre. In 2020 she published the bestseller Tour de chambre and was awarded with the Edvard P Prize for her authorship. The film rights to Tour de chambre have just been sold.
Interview by Will Forrester, Editor.
Photo credit: Lærke Posselt