The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe

The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe depicts a near-future in which death by old-age is the norm; almost all diseases have been eradicated, and it is only accidental death, or suicide, that usually ends a person’s life before the on-set of senescence. Occasionally, however, there is a rare disorder that cannot be cured, and such is the case with Katherine Mortenhoe, who is diagnosed with ‘Gordon’s Syndrome,’ and is told she has only four weeks to live.
Katherine MortenhoeEnter Human Destiny, a reality television show that offers the sufferings of the minority to the masses; the unscrupulous Vincent Ferriman, an executive at Human Destiny, wants to televise Katherine’s final twenty-eight days of life. And it is the intrepid reporter Rod (‘Roddie’) who is to bridge the gap between Katherine and the viewers. Rod has had cameras surgically attached to his retina; his eyes appear normal to others, but wherever he looks, he is filming (complete with sound). His trans-human enhancements have unfortunate side effect: his eyes are continuously perceiving, and he cannot sleep without drugs (hence the book’s alternate title, The Unsleeping Eye): Roddie cannot experience the dark; he carries a flashlight with him wherever he goes. Although the story is set in a future with significant medical advances and the possibility of cyborg technology, it has the texture of the 1970s British novel it is. The technological aspects are part of the set-up, but are not explained; this is not a hard science fiction novel, it is a character study of Katherine and Rod, two strangers who grow close in the midst of an emotionally charged situation. It is worth noting that Roddie’s sections are presented in first-person, while Katherine’s are written in third-person.
The novel is well-written; and, although the book is bleak, misanthropic, and sand-blasted with moral outrage, it is also buoyed with a pinch of hope.
A few scenes didn’t work for me, but I’m nit-picking: it is an intriguing novel.
The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (The Unsleeping Eye) was adapted into a film titled Death Watch  (by Bertrand Tavernier in 1980), staring Romy Schneider and Harvey Keitel; I haven’t seen the movie, but I think I’ll check it out (I always like to read the source novel before viewing the movie adaptation).

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3 thoughts on “The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe

  1. I’ve just seen Death Watch on Netflix. I thought it was well done, but i haven’t read the book. I don’t understand why the ending went the way it did…

  2. Pingback: Retrospeculative view, 1970 | Retrospeculative

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