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In three words - difficult, troubling, excellent.



What is the funhole? A portal into another world, a fold in reality, or as Nicholas always puts it, a process? An equation of maths and biology and physics that takes whatever is inserted and gives a good, hard twist?

The Cipher is a horror novel, but also a novel of human frailty like Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, and also a mystery that reminded me strongly of Murakami's Dance Dance Dance. It's an unrelentingly bleak tale of what happens to two young semi-destitutes (Nicholas and Nakota) after they discover a hole in the floor of Nick's apartment's storage closet. The hole leads nowhere. It isn't drilled or carved but something vaguely organic and otherworldly. Things placed in it or beside it change in sometimes subtle, sometimes horrific ways. Worst of all, it begins to eat into the waking consciousness of all who encounter it, drawing people in with its inexplicable gravity.

This isn't a plot-heavy novel. There's no solution to be found, no malevolent force to be stopped. This is a study of young people, vulnerable people, being captured and manipulated by a power beyond understanding. Nicholas and Nakota are fantastic characters, painted vividly with very few words. The foreword of The Cipher warned me that many people hate Nakota by the end of the novel, but I wasn't prepared for how real she became in my mind, and how desperately I wanted to see her receive her comeuppance. But it was the Funhole itself that locked me in place, unable to put my Kindle down until the final words. Has an inanimate (or is it?) object ever been imbued with such ferocity and malevolence before? Maybe the house in House of Leaves, or the videotape in Koji Suzuki's The Ring (also published in 1991 - great minds think alike), in how a lump of plastic embodies inescapable, remorseless evil. The Cipher may also have inspired some of the Junji Ito's body-horror epic Uzumaki, and how the town itself is one gigantic metaphorical Funhole, deep beyond measure and utterly without pity.

To summarize: had I read The Cipher when it was first published, it would have superseded IT as my all-time favourite work of horror and shaped my writing and creative processes for years to come. As it is, I'm a few decades late to the party, but The Cipher has lost none of its power. Buy, read, enjoy... but not alone, and not at night. And keep your hands out of any unexpected holes you might find.
 

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Thanks for the review. I have a very old paper back copy of this book and it was something I had been meaning to read many years ago. I had read some short stories by Kathe Koje and really liked her writing. I'm not sure why I never actually read the book. I think I'm going to pull this one off the shelf and give it a shot.
 

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They actually have it on Kindle now, so I bought a copy and am reading it now. And you're right about her style...at first glance it seems jarring, but it simply moves at its own rhythm and beat, and once you get into it, you can pretty much dance to it after a while.
 
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