Catherine House: Novel Review

Happy Monday everyone! We are exactly one week away from my week-long writing challenge! Do you have your prompts ready?

The Author

Photo © Nina Subin

Elisabeth Thomas is a Yale University graduate and an American writer from Brooklyn, New York. Catherine House is her debut novel. When she isn’t writing fiction, she works as an archivist for a modern art museum.

The Book

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 a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.

Catherine House Amazon product description

Catherine House centers around a young woman named Ines Murillo who, hoping to escape her haunted past, starts her academic career at an exclusive university called Catherine House — where their tuition, housing, and food is completely covered but at the cost of the students needing to agree to cut off all contact with the outside world. When a tragedy occurs, Ines begins to wonder if there is something sinister going on, especially in regards to the House’s most prestigious line of study.

The Review

There are shades of Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock as suspense builds in the winding corridors of the house and the twisting turns of the psyche. Moody and evocative as a fever dream, Catherine House is the sort of book that wraps itself around your brain, drawing you closer with each hypnotic step.

The Washington Post

The strength of this debut novel relies on its refusal to adhere to any sort of genre conventions . . . The book’s setting provides just as much fodder for thought and discussion as do its characters or plot. . . . While the book is easy to read—Thomas’s smart prose ensures that—the echoes of discomfort linger long after the last pages are turned.

The Boston Globe

Such a beautifully written novel! I really found this to be a powerfully character-driven story that haunted me after I had finished it.

Overall, Catherine House is Gothic, atmospheric novel with a Poe-esque rotted decadence that seems to choke the reader as much as it does Ines.

The school itself is its own neurotic character, full of mysterious rooms and twisting house, secrets and shadows. In fact, the character of the House almost rivals that of the main character who, herself, is independent, willful, and angry. Throughout the novel, you watch her change — more accurately, how the House changes her — though whether it is for better or worse is up for interpretation.

Overall, the plot is a slow burn, relying on heavy introspection and suspense with a few horrific discoveries along the way. I will admit, there were times in the novel that the plot seemed to slow and nothing happens so I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t enjoy a slower paced novel that relies more on an abstract dread for its majority.

This novel really gripped me and, even during its slower moments, I didn’t want to put it down.



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