The Cipher (Kathe Koja) [1991]

I first became aware of Kathe Koja in the summers months of 1991. I was reading an article, I think it may have been in an issue of Fangoria, about a new wave of horror authors and in it I discovered the names Poppy Z. Brite and Kathe Koja; names that stayed in my head and followed me around until I went on my weekly excursion through the book shops of my home-town

I found nothing from Poppy Brite, which wasn’t surprising as she wouldn’t have a book out for another year even though Lost Souls had already been touted as a big thing by reviewers; but I did find something from Kathe Koja.

The Cipher had a weird step-back cover, a hand cut-out, a face or something like it and an inner cover that spoke of exceptionally dark things. I was twenty years old and fresh from the books of Clive Barker, who had successfully redefined horror a few years before, and I was looking for something new; and with the story of Nicholas and Nakota, with the story of the hole and the madness that came with it, I got my wish.

The Cipher is a cipher, both as a book and as a phenomena within the book. There are no explanations, no ready ones at least, but there are many interpretations and each of these interpretations may in itself be a cipher.

The book is not for the faint of heart, neither creative weaklings or the easily repulsed should apply, but if you are in the necessary place in life,you are not easily repelled and have the creative fortitude to travel a route that offers little explanation, then The Cipher is certainly a route to take.

Originally I read the book in one feverish sitting, not noticing the sun had set and I had obtained my night-eyes until the orange street-lamps outside turned the page to a watered down blood red. I turned on a light then and kept reading; and it was dawn before I finally completed it; though I’m not sure I ever really closed the book.

Some books stay with you, they infect you like a virus.

So some years later, almost thirty (unbelievably) I saw an audiobook version pop up on Audiobook Boom that seemed to have my name on it. I mean, a free audiobook for nothing more than an honest review I’d write anyway?

If you hadn’t realised already The Cipher is a book I hold in very high regard. Its one of those books that I hear people talking movie rights to and I shudder, as a part of me shuddered when I thought of an audiobook; that was until I saw who had done it.

Seriously if I ever get my novel finished (are we all writing novels?) than I’m going to get Joshua Saxon to do it for me. Anyone who can capture the obscene poetry of Kathe Koja and in the process transform an audiobook into something closer to a nine-hour one-man audio play can handle anything I could throw at him.

If you got this far in my little review then you probably should get this audiobook,just be warned its not an easy experience and you won’t have an awful lot of fun with it; but it is captivating, compelling and more than a little rewarding.

As long as you don’t expect to fully understanding any of it that is.

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