From vanishing islands to talking flathead and nightmarish bushfires, Ben Walter’s visionary Tasmanian fictions are unique in the landscape of Australian writing. An unemployed man chooses only to apply for jobs advertised in The Economist; a failed mountain expedition is mocked by the dead bodies of past climbers; and a father and son travel urgently to witness the miracle of Lake Pedder emptying. In What Fear Was, Walter combines beautiful, mesmerising writing with surreal discomfort and absurdist hilarity to completely upend the idea of an Australian short story.
Lyrical and inventive, savage and strange. You’ve never read anyone like Ben Walter. Total mastery of language and imagery, paired with an unrivalled imagination and immense storytelling chutzpah. The shot in the arm Australian literature has been screaming for.
What Fear Was is a darkly funny, surreal and tender collection, wonderfully Tasmanian in its entanglements. You never know where Ben Walter’s stories will take you – there are no straight lines here – but it’s truly a pleasure to follow his trail.
With its unforgettable descriptions of the natural world, and the unsettling things that sometimes take place there, What Fear Was is an extraordinary collection of stories. Deeply strange, beautifully lyrical and intensely moving; no one in Australia writes like Ben Walter. The weird realism of What Fear Was is wholly unique and deeply valuable in contemporary Australian fiction.
“Without explicitly mentioning climate change, Walter shows a world that is seriously out of joint…not every sentence or story in this book is innocent of weirdness for its own sake… Walter’s inventions entail the reality and coherence of the most successful fantasy.”
OWEN RICHARDSON, Sydney Morning Herald
“Walter’s stories rarely settle into a simple, coherent worldview, doubling back on themselves thematically and stylistically, keeping the reader off balance… the lively Australian environment, its harshness and beauty, is Walter’s most vivid and visceral subject… at his most forceful when describing the natural world, the prose sculptural, aiming for a rough elegance, as if hewn from the outcroppings his characters clamber across.”
DAN DIXON, Sydney Review of Books
“A scintillating collection of short fiction, Ben Walter’s What Fear Was is as textured and elemental as the rocks that act as the namesake of his debut novella Conglomerate…a sense of amachronism with playful humour and absurdity Walter captures the clashing of domesticitiy and wilderness…solid and compelling, like humans trying to make sense of the natural world they inhabit, a sense of disorientation pervades.”
ZOWIE DOUGLAS-KINGHORN, Meanjin Quarterly