Magazine article The Spectator

Colossally Bad Taste

Magazine article The Spectator

Colossally Bad Taste

Article excerpt

DICTATORS 'HOMES by Peter York Atlantic Books, £14.99, pp. 119, ISBN 184354430X . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Everyone loves a good dictator, at least at a distance. Dictators exert the same horror and fascination that snakes have for some people; Latin American literature, for example, would be very much the poorer without them. It seems that we cannot ever know too much about their daily lives, for their arbitrary power over life and death seems to give a wider significance to the most trivial detail of their existence.

Peter York, whom the blurb describes as 'Britain's original style guru', has had the clever idea of making a picture book of dictators' homes, 16 of them in all. The premise of the book is that by their décor shall ye know them. The pictures largely speak for themselves, but are accompanied by the style guru's commentary, written in an arch, midAtlantic, facetious joke-a-minute style that often passes for wit, and that implies that the author has achieved final truth where aesthetic judgment is concerned. More than once, for example, he says that English furniture of the 18th century is the favourite of geriatric snobs the world over; but this, in my opinion, is a point very much in favour of geriatric snobbery. Of course, the very concept of a 'style guru' is the acme of vulgarity.

There are errors in the small amount of historical information provided. Milosevic did not try to annex Kosovo, because it always was, as it remains, a part of Serbia; he tried to prevent its separation from Serbia. And the preface to the book, by Douglas Coupland, is written in prose at least as vulgar as the decoration of any of the dictators' houses which it presumes to mock.

The author displays no sign of having actually visited any of the houses he writes about;

he works entirely from photographs, and the photographs of some of these establishments are so meagre as to convey no information or not to merit commentary. …

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