Esther Solar had been waiting outside Lilac Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for half an hour when she received word that the curse had struck again.
Rosemary Solar, her mother, explained over the phone that she would no longer, under any circumstances, be able to pick her daughter up. A cat black as night with demon-yellow slits for eyes had been found sitting atop the hood of the family car – an omen dark enough to prevent her from driving.
Esther Solar believes her family is cursed. Ever since her grandfather met Death in Vietnam, every family member has been cursed to suffer from one great fear, and to eventually die because of that fear. Her Grandfather, told her will die from drowning, avoids water, even baths. Esther’s father is an agoraphobic who has lived in the basement for six years, And her twin brother Eugene is terrified of the dark. Esther, though, is determined to avoid the curse, by avoiding everything that might trigger a phobia. She’s made a list of them, a semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. Then she meets Jonah, a would-be film maker with problems of his own, who is determined to make her confront, and dispel every one of her possible phobias.
Funny, sad and satisfyingly weird, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is hard to categorise, which is a good thing. The cast of flawed characters – teens and adults – are intriguing, and the plot equally absorbing. There’s some tough stuff happening, but the story is ultimately fun.
A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares Penguin, 2017
Do you suffer from frigophobia, carnophobia or Anglophobia?
Do you fret about peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth?
Do you secretly fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you?
Everyone is afraid of something – heights, the dark, confined spaces – but what if your fear was that ducks are watching you? Or that peanut butter might stick to the roof of your mouth? What would you call this fear?
A Duck is Watching Me: Strange and Unusual Phobias explores the wild and weird world of phobias. An introduction by science broadcaster Bernie Hobbs explains what a phobia is, and where they come from, with the remainder of the book giving names and definitions for a vast array of phobias, each illustrated with a photograph from the National Library of Australia’s image collection. Images chosen range from the quirky to the hauntingly beautiful and, while they do not show people exhibiting the necessary phobia, they instead relate in some way to the subject of the phobia. For example, the entry for nomophobia, the fear of losing mobile phone contact, is illustrated by a black and white image of old style telephone repairmen.
This is the kind of book which can be browsed cover to cover or left to be dipped into, and will be enjoyed by people of different ages and interests.
A Duck is Watching Me: Strange and Unusual Phobias, Bernie Hobbs
NLA Publishing, 2014
Available from good bookstores or online.