Flaubert’s Erection (only said of monuments)

Stephen Bayley's intelligent and engrossing version of Flaubert's Dictionnaire des idées reçues

Starting with Abstraction and ending with Wine, Stephen Bayley’s A Dictionary of Idiocy is not exactly a dictionary, more an alphabetical list of things he cares about. Along with Flaubert (whose translated Dictionnaire des idées recues which is generously included), Bayley has collated a group of opinions on, well, the fabric of our existence, the important things in life, you know, general stuff: I say ‘collated’ because while most of these opinions are his own, some are by other perceptive individuals. There are some useful etymological observations thrown in, too. So why ‘Dictionary of Idiocy’? The only possible idiocy is to have had the balls to form and publish them. And if you like the opinions of intelligent people, another section is devoted to the great opinion makers of the last three centuries.

In case you think I’m a bit off-message in reviewing this book for ER, there are plenty of words pertaining to sex and sexuality, usually with Bayley’s trenchant and contrarian views upon them: Cunt; Eroticism; Feminism; Fuck, Gay; Kissing; Leather; Mistress; Nudity; Perfume; Phallic Symbolism. And so on. Some entries run for a couple of pages, some for just an aphoristic line or two.

Delivered with all this author’s usual wit, authority and intelligence, this is not a book to be consumed at a gulp, but to be savoured with careful sips, like good champagne. Perfect for Kindle reading, poolside, on a hot day in the South of France (when you’ve had enough of airport-thriller garbage and would like to give your brain a decent work-out for a change) but not bad, either, for lifting the grey blanket of depression that descends upon us all at this time of year.

Hugely recommended.

Stephen Bayley, A Dictionary of Idiocy – An Utterly Quirky Guide to General Ignorance, Gibson Square Books, paperback, ISBN 9781906142629, 224 pp, £7.99 RRP