Book Review: 'Catherine House'
There is a private university nestled in the woods of Pennsylvania that is as secretive as it is prestigious. Catherine House—acclaimed, sought after, notorious—guarantees excellence in its students as many become award-winning artists, inventors, Supreme Court Justices, and presidents. The school offers free tuition, food, and room and board, but also asks for complete dedication and isolation from the outside world for three years.
This stipulation is not an issue for Ines who, like many of her fellow classmates, is running from the outside world. But at Catherine House, Ines cannot outrun her inner demons, only accept them and move forward. However, the school has its own demons, and Ines must decide if she can accept Catherine House’s sinister secrets in exchange for a place of belonging or run.
Catherine House is the debut novel by Elisabeth Thomas who is also an archivist for a modern art museum. Thomas’ experience with art is apparent in her descriptions of Catherine House and the surrounding property, poetic and agreeably overwhelming—like a long, hot bath. Ines, who is drained and lost, guides the reader through the school, describing the stifling pleasure and decay that seems to make up the property’s atmosphere. Catherine House, both the novel and the place, is a mood. It is altogether rot, decadence, too rich, and vapid, and Ines—in her lethargy and want—is the perfect vessel to ferry readers through this smothering and vibrant ambience.
Thomas’ artful prose lends itself to the story's gothic atmosphere. The book is moody and beautiful—Poe-ish. And while the secrets of Catherine House swim around Ines, creating suspense and horror, the novel also captures the intrigue of academy dramas where young people are thrown together to love, lie, and die. But Catherine House is not your average, catty academia novel. Here, the students are refreshingly diverse, and the cliques are only trying to survive their education not each other. Until, suddenly, they are, and the rich gothic narrative seamlessly slips into a strange and uncomfortable science fiction, and the reader realizes that Catherine House has always been so.
For fans of quiet horror, gothic vibes, and creepy science fiction, Catherine House is a rejuvenating addition to and brilliant mending of all these genres. Brimming with indulgent descriptions and filled with distinct and diverse characters who readers can identify with, Catherine House satisfies the hunger for something deliciously frightful and strange.
Author: Elisabeth Thomas
Cover courtesy of HarperCollins.