The Cipher by Kathe Koja:
I know I have been rather unproductive lately when it comes to reviewing books! I think I am not the only one who have been struggling with any form of productivity. To be honest my mind has somewhat been a deep dark pit where nothing escapes! And speaking of deep dark pits where nothing escapes, what book is better to talk about than “The Cipher” by Kathe Koja? Well, I first want to say that I got an eBook copy from Netgalley and I read it before its re-release date. Since then, I got this in paperback from Meerkat Press.
First of all, this book has been on my want-to-read list for years. Before Meerkat Press announced that they were rereleasing this book, I was eyeing up second-hand editions, they could reach up as high as 400 dollars (insane, I know!). In some cases, this book has reached levels of cult status. But then the powers that be decided that Meerkat Press should gift this book to the starving masses, hungry for The Cipher.
Anyways, enough rambling, let’s get into it:
“The Cipher” by Kathe Koja:
There is a hole in the floor in a storage room that only Nicolas and his strange-friend-sometimes-lover Nakota only knows about, they call it the Funhole. Whatever organic that goes into the hole comes out changed and wrong. After an adventure with a video camera in the Funhole, obsession sets in to whomever watches the video. When the number of people who knows about the existence of the Funhole increases and Nicolas finds himself with a Funhole of his own in his hand, things start to dissolve into an ever-maddening addiction of the Funhole.
Ok, so first of all, when I first finished this book, I had no idea on how to review it, and I still don’t! Not without spoiling parts of the book. So, I have to do my darndest not to write any spoilers!
Anyways, so first out of the gate is, when I first read the book, I felt it was “dirty”, though not in a vulgar or sexual sense, but more a reminder of how the early 90s were like, or as far as how I remember it to be, from gritty tv shows from the time, maybe gritty is a better word for the feeling I sat with. When reading The Cipher, I could almost feel the cold floors of Nicolas’s rundown apartment, the cold seeping in from the outside, the half-melted sleet snow in the streets, the feeling of pus running down the hand of Nicolas. All this because of Koja’s prose, she writes in an almost theatrical way, its all cut down to the bone, not a superfluous word to be found! (though, in this maybe superfluous is quite superfluous in this setting, anyways!). But that is a skill of Koja’s that I find quite unique, the fact that there is more said with the words not written. It is a great example of reading between the lines! It is so very atmospheric and evocative!
One of the important aspects in this book (and in basically any book), is the characters. The characters in The Cipher are mixed bunch, though all are well rounded and in their own ways broken, they are also very real! Nicholas is a broken mess, almost pathetic in ways. He is burdened with the occurrence of the Funhole, reluctantly forced to deal with it and its effects on the people around him. Nakota is strange, using Nicholas for access to the Funhole (not in a dirty way), whilst gaslighting and manipulating him. She is also very self-destructive and obsessed, basically addicted to the hole (again, not dirty). Also, Nicolas and Nakota have a very dysfunctional relationship, she is using him and he like a puppy panting after her. Their sex scenes are almost uncomfortable to read, its dispassionate and feels like they are just going through the motions. It is dirty but, not in a sexy way. Just wrong in several ways.
There is Malcolm and his posse of people with ever changing loyalties. Malcolm is a stuck-up arrogant artist, with an ego bigger than talent and he is very talented. His groupies fly about as leeches sticking to the newest big deal they can find.
The only people I found likeable in ways were Randy and his girlfriend Vanese. The only sensible people I would say, they are genuinely supporting and caring for Nicholas.
Among the many things I like about this book, is the fact that you get very little explanation, I feel in the last decade there have been an influx of explanation into every aspect of either a film, tv series or literature. In The Cipher there is an endless hole in the ground. Why? Who cares! There is a hole in the ground, now deal with it! The uncertainty makes it all the more unsettling!
All in all, this is a book one has to read in my opinion! I for one am glad that Meerkat Press have rereleased this literary classic. It is a classic that stands the test of time, this year will be it’s 30-year anniversary, and unlike a lot of other works of horror, The Cipher is not bound of its time. With a few small changes here and there. It could have easily been published next week. Though I am thankful for it being published when it originally was, since this book has inspired a whole slew of newer horror writers!
Ok, it feels like I have been rambling this entire post, and I am not sure one could call this a review. Maybe the book is just like the videorecording of the Funhole. Showing different things to the various readers. Just know that I loved this book and it left me breathless!
No surprise that I give this book 5/5 deformed insects.