Kathe Koja-The Cipher

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of back-pedaling and exploring seminal books in the genre that I may have missed. In my journeys I came across Kathe Koja’s psychological horror novel, The Cipher. It was the title that launched the now-infamous Dell/Abyss line in the early ’90s. I won’t go into the history of that line, only because it’s already been done so well here and here.

This bleak, grimy novel tells the story of a poet, Nicholas, and his girlfriend, Nakota, whose lives are changed when a black hole appears in one of the rooms of their apartment. As their obsession with the Funhole (as they call it) grows, they continue to experiment with it, bringing others into their increasingly obsessive experience. What they find is that its sinister purpose is tied fundamentally to their marginalized existence and that its appearance is no accident.

Koja’s novel shines, above all, for its prose. Told in the first person, from Nicholas’ point of view, she captures his increasingly fractured thoughts with intense precision, delving deeper within him and his toxic relationships as the saga of the Funhole progresses. Each character he meets is real and their purposes in relation to him are revealed so clearly. Nakota is the lover who wants to go further down the hole. Malcom is the pretentious artist who wants to exploit Nicholas and his plight. Randy and Vanese are the concerned friends, though Randy also sees a way to put the Funhole to use.

Koja’s prose and the depth of Nicholas’ character make for obsessive reading right up until the fitting, tragic conclusion. Highly recommended for Koja’s prose and the uniqueness of the story.

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