It’s taken me a while to compile my thoughts about this book, and though I’m not changing my rating of it, I’ve finally decided what it’s about as I see it. It seems there’s a consensus that the book is primarily about TV, and media, and the overwhelming power it has over our lives, and to some degree I concur. The world Katherine Mortenhoe inhabits is boring, placid, and uneventful, and so the story’s impact relies on that boredom. However, TV is just the catalyst in this case to represent the fundamental emptiness of the world and apparent personality of Katherine Mortenhoe, and the reason everyone (in the book) takes her journey.
Our male protagonist, Roddie, has signed his life away to a TV company. Undertaking an operation to have cameras inserted into his eyes, which subsequently don’t allow him to sleep (TV cannot miss a beat, you know) and which cause him deathly pain if closed for too long, he’s the ultimate 24-hour undercover agent. Getting your eyes hooked up so you can effectively spy on other people’s intimacy is pretty messed up, and Roddie doesn’t think he has any connection to anyone anymore, so what the hell. He gets caught up this pursuance of Katherine (without her knowledge) after she discovers she’s dying, and rather than trying to convince her to do the show, he works his way into her death.
So, reality shows are moulded for viewers. Scripted and edited to be shocking and leading, and ensure people’s natural curiosity (yes, we all have it, but some can’t seem to fight it very well) is well and truly grabbed by the proverbials. TCKM holds that assumption high. There is a big clue that Katherine Mortonhoe has been duped into believing herself into dying. Though this is a secret that Vincent (Roddie’s boss) is happy to protect for almost any amount of money, her doctor, having seen her flourish on the screen, and having guided her through her dying process in person, has his own morals squeezed to the point he is desperate to end the tragedy. This was actually one of the most interesting arcs that was only alluded to quite near the end.
But that secret is not what is driving the show – it is the genuine belief that Katherine is dying, at far too young an age, in a world where sickness has been eradicated until one is very old. She is an anomaly, and Vincent wants to make all the money he possibly can on her descent to the end. This is actually probably the weakest part of the story. I don’t think boredom can effectively be a strong enough reason for a TV show to have gone as far as it did, but nothing else I the world seemingly to have altered, and so the shaky premise I think is what keeps this at a three star.
So, the problem is, Katherine Mortenhoe, who is astonishingly normal and relatively boring it seems, is accepting this dying as another part of her uneventful life. But eventually even she cannot separate herself from the strange elevation and freedom this vision of dying brings, and she begins to act recklessly and unabashedly with (TV guy), doing things and seeing placed she very likely would never have done otherwise. We also start to see the different sides of Katherine from the perception of people like her father and her ex-husband. These insights into possibilities of what her life could have been, and what she could have experienced, but never had the drive to pursue due to the lack of fight in the population.
Along the same kind of vein (but not style) as The Outsider by Albert Camus, The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe is a study on the discovery of life only when you have reached its end. Living life as if there is no meaning in anything until struggle finally catches up to you is not a new message, but that’s the point of the enduring human experience, it goes on as long as we do. Personally I think this is the most powerful message in the book, however, the obsession with reality TV is certainly raised as the sideshow of how low humanity has sunk. When the only way you can get your kicks is to watch people dying on TV, you’ve got a very sick society – without the actual, physical sickness to boot. Which is the point.
I’m a firm believer humans need struggle to find worth, strength and endurance, and forge strong communities. When you have nothing to fight for you have lost the ability to hope and strive, and so in that sense the book carries off the message well.