Review: Nick Cutter's THE DEEP
Nick Cutter’s The Deep is the modern epitome of cosmic horror. This is ironic because rather than having to do with the cosmos - the indifferent reality beyond our darkest skies - the Canadian horror novel is set in the deepest depths of the Pacific ocean. It is a 394 page nightmare that never lets up, and from which you cannot wake, combining true human suffering with the bleak sci-fi strangeness that made H.P. Lovecraft into a legend.
The Deep is horror of the highest concept, piling situation on top of situation until the stakes could literally not be any higher. Our planet is ravaged by a new plague called the ‘Gets which causes humans to slowly forget everything until they can’t remember basic bodily functions and die. A possible cure miraculously appears in the eleventh hour of our demise, and a science team is sent to an undersea facility, the Trieste, to study it. Contact is lost, portentous events occur, and the main character Luke is sent down to the station in order to make contact with his AWOL super scientist brother.
What follows Luke’s descent into the Marianas Trench is scream-worthy but also compelling. Cutter doubles down on the theme of memory, making his main character experience intense reveries through which we learn his past. These flashbacks, which tap into the very human horrors of childhood abuse and the life-rending tragedy of child abduction, anchor the larger than life sci-fi setting in a place of relatable pain. For every scene of creative body horror there is another to balance it by tapping into true feelings of pain vulnerability.
Despair oozes from the pages of The Deep. There is a great deal of suspense throughout the book and it delivers on all its nauseating promises. In a way, the whole novel feels like a puzzle box. Cutter, through the present tense of Luke’s flashbacks and the Crichton-esque set up of the Trieste, manages to connect numerous episodes that are chilling on their own, but when combined form a coherent map of utter bleakness.
The Deep is not a happy book. Hope is nowhere to be found, just frailty, tragedy and viscera. Yet, there is a deep vein of humanity at the core. Luke’s relationships with his brother, mother and son squeezed at my heart, and when things got surreal - reality blending with memory - I found myself crying for monsters and soon for the world.
Like the best Cosmic horror, The Deep invokes our latent desire to know that bad things happen for a reason, then toys with it. It conjures a purpose and agency behind the otherworldly horrors beneath the waves and the quotidian horror of everyday life only to then tell you the reasons for our pain and suffering are indifferent to us. The causes behind our pathos, if determined by an intelligence, are as inaccessible to us as the private pain of other people or the secrets at the bottom of the ocean.
Reading The Deep is an exercise in dark thought, filled with the stuff that can keep you up at night. But it is also an exercise in compassion. By accessing the darkness of a thing beyond our understanding, Nick Cutter has propped up out most characteristic and noble trait as a species. We are weak, fragile creatures who come apart easily when under pressure, and understanding this is the best possible victory we can hope for.