Book Review: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Catherine House isn’t the type of book I normally read, but I had to choose a dark academia book for the Popsugar reading challenge. It has mixed reviews but I thought the blurb was intriguing, so I decided to give it a go. This book is interesting but odd, and I’m not sure what to make of it, which calls for a: the good, the bad, and the ugly style review.

Details

  • Name: Catherine House
  • Author: Elisabeth Thomas
  • Genre: thriller, suspense, gothic
  • Page count: 320
  • Published: May 12th, 2020

Rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Blurb

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

Review

The Good

I was completely hooked in the beginning. Life at Catherine House is very strange, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget reading about it. The subjects that are taught are nonsensical, and there is a lot of mystery around the academic side of Catherine House. Food has a constant presence in the book. The school provides all of the students’ meals, which are completely bizarre. Ines and her friends almost exclusively eat dessert and they are constantly drinking alcohol, out of teacups of all things.

The only other book I’ve read in this genre is Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and this definitely reminded me of that, minus the magic. Catherine House has a cult vibe and indoctrinates its students with rituals and chanting. I thought this was interesting, but there was no explanation for the traditions, which is slightly disappointing. Concept wise, I love the idea of an exclusive school that has sinister secrets. In the next section, I’ll get into where it fell a bit short.

The book is split into three parts, one for each year that Ines spends at Catherine House. This gives some needed structure to the plot because it has long chapters that jump all over the place. The plot moves slowly, which is normally a deal-breaker for me, but the writing made up for it. Elisabeth Thomas’ prose is clear and she does a great job of creating the perfect atmosphere.

The Bad

This book would have been much better with a different protagonist. Ines isn’t a likeable character. She’s apathetic about her life and doesn’t seem to have any reasons behind why she makes her choices. It’s also hard to root for a self-destructive character. She barely goes to class and comes close to flunking out, which doesn’t seem to motivate her to work harder.

The supporting characters were arguably the best part of the book. Ines’ roommate Baby is unique. From her pet snail to her hobby of picking locks, she has more personality than Ines and more of a character arch. Their classmate Yaya is the best character and I wish she had been the protagonist. She’s funny, sees Catherine House for what it really is, and is a good friend.

The Ugly

Catherine House didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, and I don’t exactly understand what the point of it was. Ines is running away from her past, which is hinted at but never fully explained. Also, the ending is ambiguous and wasn’t satisfying at all. I don’t want to be too critical because I think the book as a whole would take more than one read to fully digest. Catherine House isn’t a perfect match for me, but considering that it’s a debut, it’s not a bad book.

Overall

Catherine House got off to a great start and it had my full attention. I thoroughly enjoyed at least 1/3 of it before I started to get a bit lost. I can understand how some people loved this book and others didn’t. I’m right around the middle. I give this 3 stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mysterious atmosphere accompanied by a subtle plot that leaves you wondering. I have no doubts that Elisabeth Thomas is a talented writer, and I’m excited to see what she comes out with in the future.

Do you like dark academia? Have you read this book? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas”

    1. I thought I hadn’t read anything in this genre either, but I feel like because there’s some overlap with fantasy and mystery the label dark academia isn’t always made explicit. I hope you like it if you decide to read it!

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  1. I’m glad you mentioned Ninth House in comparison because that’s all I could think of while reading this review. This book is on my tbr but.. it will be less of a priority now.
    It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy the book more but, thank you, for your honest review!

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    1. Right, I didn’t think I would be the only one to make the comparison haha. There have def been books I’ve enjoyed less this than this one. Plus I wasn’t in danger of dnf’ing it at any point. I’d still recommend it, but maybe lower priority if you’re on the fence!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lol, well, as long as there are others you liked less than this one.. there’s still hope! 😂
    Thank you so much, I needed the laugh, and I will definitely keep all of this in mind.
    Now, I’m almost curious enough to read it sooner.. just to see.

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