Saskia Winkelmann’s debut novel Vertigo describes the outlook of a woman who seeks freedom through drug use and ends up losing her grip on reality. Winkelmann perfectly nails a tone that moves between heady intoxication and sober reality.
When someone is falling, you can’t tell if they were pushed or if they jumped. The only difference, according to the first-person narrator of Saskia Winkelmann’s novel, lies in the fear they feel before. By the time she explains this to her intrepid friend Johanna—known as Jo, ‘without the Hanna’—she is already falling. Fear of Heights explores the precarious friendship between these two young women who meet in their last year of school. Jo is said to have a failed suicide attempt behind her. With her help, the narrator manages to free herself from her oppressive home. Since her father moved out, she has lived alone with her mother, for whom everything revolves around alcohol—even before that, she was a regular witness to her parents’ drinking sprees, some upbeat, others frankly unpleasant. Jo brings a breath of fresh air into her life. While the narrator tends to regard everything as unalterable and predetermined, Jo believes everything can be changed. Together they discover the Cellar, a place where illegal raves are held and drugs are freely available. Things begin to slip out of control.
Saskia Winkelmann describes in incisive prose the narrator’s loosening grip on reality and her growing difficulty distinguishing between waking and dreaming. Close to Jo, the narrator is happy; away from her, her mood darkens. The nights in the Cellar with Jo and the days they spend in the mountain hut represent freedom for them. Increasingly, though, this sense of freedom can only be accessed through drugs.
The electric unease of Fear of Heights makes for a gripping read. The story jumps more and more wildly between sober and high, reality and desire, making palpable the young women’s impatience—a fatal mix of curiosity and despair that sends the book hurtling towards its tragic end. Thanks to Saskia Winkelmann’s pitch-perfect writing, we finish the book with everything clear before us, and yet still blurred at the edges.
Text by Beat Mazenauer
- Verlag die Brotsuppe, Biel/Bienne
- Translation rights
- Ursi Aeschbacher, email@example.com
- Publication date
- April 2023
Saskia Winkelmann was born in 1990 in Thun and studied language arts at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and contemporary arts practice at the Bern Academy of Arts. She writes, organises events and moderates talks. She also DJs under the stage name Kia Mann. Her texts have appeared in literary magazines, newspapers, a zine, on stages and on a record cover. She firmly believes in the power of the collective and in radical honesty, but also that nothing is certain other than the fact everything changes. Höhenangst is her first novel. She lives in Bern.
Photo: © Eglė Šalkauskyte