The Dice Man – review

The Dice ManI finally finished The Dice Man. It took a while and I thought I’d given up a number of times, but in the interests of completiveness (should be a word), I persevered.

Picture if you will a successful, but not the most successful, psychiatrist in New York in the 1970s. The novel opens with Dr Luke Rhinehart grappling with how dull he feels his life has become. His professional rival, Dr Jake Ecstein, seems to have everything so much better. Plus, he’s got a totty wife who Luke would rather like to bang. The reader is constantly reminded of Luke’s hugeness of stature so that the notion that he ‘just doesn’t fit’ is embedded. It’s a useful one to remember.

By chance (of course) Luke discovers a ‘dice life’. At first, his ‘gambling’ is a useful way to alleviate his boredom, although the stakes were shockingly high on his first exercise. As his dicelife (one word) continues, it becomes a habit, a requirement, an obsession, a fetish and a religion. Eventually, Luke stakes everything on the whim of the dice, including his professional and personal reputations, and ultimately his sanity. The novel ends on something of a cliff-hanger (if the reader cares), which was a sure sign of a follow-up. I was just glad to reach the end, frankly.

It’s not terrible good stuff. It’s an entertaining and daring concept, and it leaves an impact with the reader. The irony of a psychiatrist losing his mind shouldn’t be lost on anyone, even if it’s a cliché which has been played out all too often in many different scenarios. There’s no doubt that as a piece of writing, much of the last third was unnecessary and repetitious, but I’m not going to complain about that too much because once I reached the end, I knew that I was glad I’d finished it (and probably glad that I wouldn’t have to read it again). I won’t be bothering with The Search for the Dice Man or The Book of the Die because it’s starting to feel a little like a franchise and I’ve seen enough, but I’m glad I’ve finally read The Dice Man to see what all the fuss is about.

If you’re going on any excursions or trips this year and you fear you may get bored, grab a copy of this in the airport. It’ll see you through for a while.

I’ve since finished The Porcupine but Julian Barnes, but that’s for another day.

17 responses to “The Dice Man – review

  1. I read it a few years ago and loved the concept, but found the novel itself a bit of a tedious struggle to wade through. I wonder how much of that was to do with it being written two years before I was born and based in a cultural setting that was fairly alien to me.

    It’s a bit shallow, but I’d kind of like Irvine Welsh to rework the idea (hey, he did it to the Picture of Dorian Gray, so why not this?) because I think I’d enjoy it a lot more.

  2. LC, I agree with you completely about it being a tedious struggle to wade through. Hence why it took me so long, and why I was rather surprised to finish it at all.

    I like the idea of Welsh taking it up, though! In which novel did he rework Dorian Gray? I’m not familiar with it. I know that Will Self did that (I’ve had ‘Dorian’ sitting idly on my shelves for much too long now), but I didn’t know that Welsh did it too.

  3. Bedroom Secrets of the Masterchefs is based on a similar principle – the lead character discovers that the ill effects of his own hedonism are suffered by a co-worker who he has developed an irrational hatred of. Dorian Gray is referenced once or twice in the story too.

  4. I’m not surprised about War and Peace, but Vernon God Little was a really easy read and very enjoyable. I too read it from cover to cover and loved it.


    Top reasons for this included; feeling tired (48 percent), watching TV (46 percent), or playing computer or interactive games (26 percent).

    I can understand these reasons for not being able to read long novels, mind you. Well, if you substitute games for Interwebbing.

  5. Hah, it does make me laugh that so many people have struggled with Jade Goody and David Beckham’s “auto”biographies… not surprised to see Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on that list too. My mother found that incredibly hard going due to far too overly descriptive writing that seemed to add nothing to the story.

  6. And ‘The Alchemist’, indeed! Not least because it’s a load of shite, huh!

    I didn’t know that Clinton had an autobiog that is over 1,000 pages long. The arrogance!

    I, for one, have never read an autobiography. I really am not that interested in any one person (apart from myself).

  7. Someone once raved about this book to me, but i have yet to read it. Your review has not convinced me that i should either as i’m sure it would be something that i, like others, would fail to finish. I’m struggling with Gregory David Roberts’ ‘Shantaram’ at the moment (933 pages!), which was another enthusiastically recommended by others. I honestly don’t know if i’ll get to the end. I can see that it would be an interesting tale, but i don’t rate the writing – it feels clunky and try-hard in parts, and i’m only on page 48. *groans*

  8. Sabrina, ‘completion’ is indeed the correct word but it doesn’t properly convey what I mean, I feel. Who knows!

    TheJadedLotus, fair play to you if you finish a book of 933 pages! I couldn’t! Is it even engaging? I wouldn’t recommend The Dice Man really, no. If they did an abridged version, then perhaps. Or if they made a film out of it, then you’d never know. Or if someone wrote an academic paper about him and the dicelife, it could be quite interesting. But the book is a little much.

  9. Ha! When I was talking to Mammy yesterday, she was telling me that they’d been to mass twice on Paddy’s day (once for the holy day and once for Sunday). Good practice for Easter, I told her!

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