The Cipher - Kathe Koja


Genre: Horror
Synopsis: Nicholas is a would-be poet and video-store clerk with a weeping hole in his hand - weeping not blood, but a plasma of tears... It began with Nakota and her crooked grin. She had to see the dark hole in the storage room down the hall. She had to make love to Nicholas beside it, then began her experiments: First, she put an insect in...Then a mouse... Now from down the hall, the black hole calls out to Nicholas every day and every night. And he will go to it. Because it has already seared his flesh, infected his soul, and started him on a journey of obsession - through its soothing, blank darkness into the blinding core of terror...


Review: This was my first Koja novel, picked up purely by chance from Amazon on my tablet when I glimpsed it for a fair price. A very fair price, actually, given how thoroughly satisfying a read it is. It suggested something dark and gritty on its cover and in its synopsis and boy did it deliver! I zoomed through it in less than 24 hours, despite the repulsive, repellant things I was reading. The characters range from unlikeable to utterly detestable - all apart from poor Randy, one of the only relatively-sane people in the entire novel and for whom I felt so bad when he got sucked in to the whole mess. Ultimately, I must concede every character got as good an ending as I would have wished for them based on their varying degrees of stupidity or innocence - this fact being one of many satisfying aspects of the novel.

Others include the writing - oh the writing. The distinctive voice of our would-be hero; would-be, had he any will to life at all beyond the magnetic draw of the vile Nakota, (yeah). In anothers hands I think this book would be crass and crude and wholly unenjoyable, but there is something in the writing that makes it so enticing and human, the style bordering on stream-of-consciousness at times, really soaking the reader in Nicholas' confusion and fear. The content is regularly lurid and shocking, but compelling - I wanted to know where it was all going to go, how weird it was going to get.

There is little or no plot at all in this novel - a point which might be off-putting for some readers (definitely not one for those of you who wants answers to everything!) - the strange phenomenon in the storage room is a process, a vehicle which drives an intense study of several people, some already venturing beyond the boundaries of sanity when they encounter it, as they react to something that is fundamentally and mind-bogglingly unknowable. The point of the book is the journey they go on, the transformation of their minds and lives brought about by exposure to the Funhole, like a metaphysical representation of the physical rearrangement it performs on minor living things; and in this sense, it is entirely rewarding.

Absolutely sold on Koja as an author, and cannot wait to pick up more of her books.

Rating: 4/5

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