The Cipher (Kathe Koja)

The Cipher is a novel by Kathe Koja.
Finished on: 20.12.2020
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer give-away.]

Plot:
In a small storage room in Nicholas’ building, there is a hole in the floor. But it’s not just a hole, it’s apparently endless and might be alive. Nicholas’ on-again-off-again girlfriend Nakota is obsessed with what they call the funhole, dragging Nicholas to the storage room any chance she gets to just look at the hole. Nicholas doesn’t understand her fascination, he would rather forget the hole’s existence. But he can’t say no to her, not even when she hatches a plan to dangle a video camera into the hole and film what’s there. The longer they spend time with the hole, the more they change.

The Cipher was difficult for me. I loved the concept and the body horror elements were utterly visceral, but I often struggled with the prose and the story. I wish I could have loved it more.

The book cover showing a hand being held up above a face. Both are pixelated as if looked at through a faulty camera.

For the first few chapters of The Cipher, I was seriously considering whether I should just quit the book right then and there. The stream-of-consciousness narration was confusing and uncomfortable and I pretty much hated it. It did get better or I got more used to it, but I never really loved it. (It also didn’t help that the text seemed littered with OCR errors. Hopefully that was due to the fact that I got an early copy.)

And I definitely didn’t like neither Nicholas nor Nakota. Nakota is simply horrible and I am not sure whether she is supposed to be a POC (her name sounds vaguely Japanese to me, and it’s also the name of a Native American tribe, but one character also mentions that it’s not her real name, so maybe she’s a white person affecting some kind of “exotic flair”). If yes, it is particularly troubling that she’s such an asshole because it would make her the only POC in the entire book. Nicholas is not an outright ass as Nakota, but he is still insufferable in his indecision and passivity.

I did love the concept. The funhole is absolutely creepy and the body horror – oh, I felt that deep in my core. As body horror tends to be, it is absolutely disgusting and you have to be prepared for that. Comfortable is definitely something else.

But the way the story evolves is rather exhausting and the book feels much longer than it is. I also felt like I needed to start a tally of how often the book refers to Nakota being really thin. In the grand scheme of things, this was a small annoyance, but nevertheless one that made me frustrated with the book even more.

In the end, the book just went on too long and the second half feels too repetitious to hold much fascination even in its good parts. I started to hurry because I just wanted it to be over. Fortunately it did end and I probably won’t be revisiting.

Summarizing: didn’t work for me.

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