- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics (July 5, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1590179714
- ISBN-13: 978-1590179710
In an ambiguous future when death has become all but extinct – save for accident and old age – Katherine Mortenhoe is dying. She has weeks to live, her doctor’s estimate about four at best.
Her decline will be particularly awful. Beginning with seizures and shaking, confusion and double-vision will follow, then incontinence and the inability to walk or care for herself. But the final indignity is yet to come: smarmy Human Destiny TV executive Vincent Ferriman will not rest until he’s blared Katherine’s last days for the entertainment of a fascinated public hungry for novelty.
DG Compton’s The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe is at once a prescient work of fiction anticipating the era we live in, one obsessed with voyeuristic sensationalism, and an exploration of one man’s choice of humanity over fame and fortune. A young, up and coming reporter named Roddie, hired to shadow Mortenhoe and equipped with a camera installed behind his eyes, recognizes the beauty inside a middle-aged woman haunted by the specter of her own death. As they meet and become acquainted, he sees in her strength a humanity forgotten by a society in which death has lost its power to inspire fear.
Following her around becomes a quest of sorts. Growing more ill, she comes to depend on him. In turn, a sense of protectiveness spills out of Roddie. As what he sees is transmitted to the control room where Ferriman’s men edit and broadcast it, Roddie is forced to decide where his ultimate loyalty lies – with the expensive cars and instant fame celebrity brings, or in nursing a woman no longer able to control her bodily functions as she rapidly descends into death – from the glamorous and sexy to the messy reality of the end of a life.
The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe is a lovely, lovely book. It’s a story about living and dying, about regrets and the unfortunate tendency of humans to forget mortality and believe themselves invincible. It asks the question: what would you do if you found out you were dying, where would ultimate meaning be found, and how and with whom would you choose to spend your last moments?
There’s loads of symbolism in the book, from the prefix “mort” – meaning death – in Katherine’s name to the all-seeing eye in Roddie’s head that allows him not just to transmit but to penetrate the soul of another human being. It explores relationships, separating the superficial and fleeting from the truly deep and meaningful. Compton skewers celebrity and avarice, voyeurism and the danger of a society that loses the understanding of what humanity means.
Absolutely breathtaking. Yet another worthy classic brought back into print by NYRB editions.