Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Cipher by Kathe Koja

About the Author

Kathe Koja is the author of the horror novels The Cipher, Bad Brains, Skin, Strange Angels, Kink and the collection Extremities. The Cipher won the 1991 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, a tie with Melanie Tem's Prodigal. Unfortunately, she now mainly writes young adult fiction and her website doesn't even mention her adult novels anywhere.


Nicholas and his lover, Nakota, discover a black-hole-like thing, which they name "The Funhole," in his apartment building's storage closet. They are so fascinated by it that they perform experiments to see what the Funhole will do. First they put a jar of insects next to it, then they dangle a mouse over it and they eventually lower a video camera down. The video makes Nakota obsessive and she almost dives into the Funhole, being saved by Nicholas who inadvertently plunges his hand into the hole.

The plot is bizarre. Basically, it's 356 pages about a hole. But even stranger is how compelling it is despite the simple plot. I didn't expect it to hold my interest, but its fast pace had me flipping the pages. It gradually builds tension, beginning with a bit of an interest in the hole, eventually turning into a full-blown obsession. Koja has a way with words, writing poetic prose that makes you think.

Nicholas is a very likable narrator and I felt afraid for him. I identified with him and his messed up relationship with Nakota. But I hated Nakota. She was selfish, rude, crazy and basically just a bitch. I couldn't understand why Nicholas wanted to be with her.

The ending was inevitable, but it didn't explain what happened to Nicholas. I can guess, but I would rather have had Koja describe it because her words are better than my imagination. And there was never an explanation for what the Funhole really was, why it was there, etc.

The Cipher is a very unique horror novel, perfect for those of you who are sick and tired of reading the same monster plots over and over.

Rating: 4/5


Kathe Koja said...

Thanks for the good words on THE CIPHER, Melissa; glad to hear the story spoke to you.

I do have a new book for the grown-ups coming out this October, from Small Beer Press: a historical novel called UNDER THE POPPY.

Melissa Helwig said...

Thanks! I'll be sure to check out your new book.

Will Errickson said...

Great post. I remember when THE CIPHER was published in '91, it was totally unlike anything else at the time. I loved it & read it a few times. Always looked forward to all her horror novels. Eventually I'll get around to writing them up on my own blog. Have you read PRODIGAL? I remember liking that one too.