George Cockroft (better known by his pen-name Luke Rhineheart) had this anti-establishment tale of capricious luck published in 1971. It’s since become something of a smash cult hit, with tedious lads’ mag Loaded calling it the “novel of the century” back in 1999. We read it in 2003 and remain unimpressed, but there’s no denying it has left an indelible impact on the literary scene and thousands of readers.
The story follows the life of psychiatrist Luke Rhinehart who, in a fit of subversive boredom, decides to make all of his decisions on the role of dice. Pure chance, in other words, with the potential for extremely disruptive, destructive, and chaotic results. This decision triggers off something of a counter-culture movement and Rhinehart becomes a celebrity of sorts as he leads what begins to emerge as a kind of cult. Interesting, non?
The Dice Man
Straight up, this is a large novel and one we didn’t particularly like. It’s a great idea, but the writer becomes weighed down by a pornographic sensibility. There’s a lot of sex in the novel and we’re treated to various tedious, seemingly narcissistic accounts of how well endowed the guy is. That’s positively thrilling to learn, but can we move the story along, please?
The central theme is, of course, that subversive anti-government, anti-society stance; living your life by the roll of a dice. Rhineheart regularly challenges himself to think up appalling things, the results of the dice then telling him what to do. Even if he’s unhappy about the results, with this new way of life he has to carry out his actions and deal with the consequences.
So this leads to the likes of murder, rape, sex, and what eventually become known as “dice parties” where subscribers to it all meet up and make decisions with their dice. Naturally, these themes tie in with many of the counter-culture movements and anti-government sentiments of the early 1970s.
There are, however, 500 pages of this. For us, it turned into a bit of a chore to read through whatever anarchic situation the author decides to put his lead character through. Despite our negativity about it, the book does remain popular on a cult level but, really, it seems like it fits in neatly for those wanting to shake things up a bit and bored with the dreary tedium of day-to-day activities.
Luke Rhineheart – The Enigma
The nihilistic, fatalistic, and existential themes may not have appealed to us, but having shifted two million copies the book clearly hit a nerve. The author, now 84, remains shrouded in quite a lot of mystery. There are fans devoted to the story and, 45 years after its publication, the likes of Richard Branson gave the concept of dice throwing a whirl (in Branson’s case only for 24 hours – he stopped after that out of sheer terror. Wuss!).
This all made the author rather notorious, but due to being somewhat elusive little has emerged about his reasoning behind the book. To add to this, and rather strangely, no films or TV shows have been adapted from the Dice Man, either, although the 2008 Jim Carrey film Yes Man appears to have been inspired by the dice concept.
In early 2017, a journalist from the Guardian newspaper was able to locate the author and spend three days with him (you can read the interview here if you’re interested). In this, he reveals he took inspiration from Kafka, Hemingway, and Tolstoy to pen something to challenge the social norm of traditional “belonging”. Ultimately, whilst we may have baulked at it all, the novel is at least unique, so give it a whirl if you fancy a challenging read.