Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

In the past couple of years, books that have a boarding school setting have become a kind of subgenre all of their own. There's something so tantalizing about the community dynamic and often simultaneous isolation that a boarding school can offer. Publishers often gravitate toward trends in their novels (see all the thrillers with "girl" or "lie" in the title), so it should come as no surprise that books that take place in or around a boarding school have become the latest trend. I really enjoyed Simone St. James's The Broken Girls, and J.T. Ellison's Good Girls Lie, both novels that featured a boarding school setting. When Elisabeth Thomas's publisher offered me a copy of her debut novel Catherine House to review, it was partly the promise of another mysterious educational institution story that convinced me to read and review it.

What would you sacrifice for the guarantee of success? Behind the formidable black iron gates of the forested estate lies Catherine House, an institution renowned for higher learning. Getting into the revered school is no easy task. Catherine House is well-known for being nearly impossible to gain admission to. Equally infamous is the school's experimental approach to pedagogy. Still, entrance into Catherine House leads to almost certain success. Its students have gone on to be the top in their fields, no matter what the concentration of study. Even better, students of Catherine House pay no tuition and live at the school for free. Admission to the school is not without cost. In exchange for the promise of power and prestige, students must sacrifice three years of their lives, living every moment of those three years at the school, unplugged from their family, friends, and society at large. Would you take that deal?

Catherine House is the last place Ines ever thought she would find herself. She is more used to the decadence of the nightlife than the strict rigors of academia. Still, Ines is excited at the opportunity for a better life that Catherine House promises to provide. She immediately bonds with another girl at the school who is also eager to find acceptance amongst her peers and the world at large. As the pair begins their time at the school, they soon see that things are not how they anticipated at all. Ines's penchant for drugs and casual sex is actually encouraged. The school's director wants all the students to explore and experiment to truly connect to themselves and find their voice within the institution. The faculty is equally unconventional. There's even a highly secretive and mysterious field of study called new materials that only the highest achievers are invited to study. As Ines starts to navigate the strange world of Catherine House her feelings of liberation and possibility give way to an underlying sense of unease. She's promised three years of her life to this place and can't help but start to feel like that might have been a mistake.

In her debut novel Catherine House author Elisabeth Thomas paints a chilling portrait of the sacrifices one makes in the name of ambition. She deftly writes of the Gothic halls of Catherine House, establishing a sense of place that fills each page with equal parts dread and sensuality. There is something about this place that makes the reader suspicious while nevertheless drawing them deeper inside. While the publisher promises a "suspenseful page-turner", I found Catherine House to be much more of a slow burn. The book takes a while to find its narrative footing. The world that Thomas is building is wonderfully rich, but the story that takes place in this world is less sure of itself. It wasn't until the halfway point that I felt the novel gained a true sense of purpose and direction. It was at that point that the pages started to turn a bit faster, making me feel more connected to the main character's drive to discover the secrets behind the school's pristine facade. The revelations were satisfying, though I'm not sure they necessarily delivered on the buildup of the entire book. In the end, Elisabeth Thomas's Catherine House will probably generate a mixed reaction depending upon your personal tastes or mood. It leaned a bit too far into focusing on world-building over the plot for me, but I'll still be happy to read more from this promising new author.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 28)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 and is filed under ,,,,,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

45 Responses to “Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas”

  1. I've got this one on my TBR list because of that boarding school setting. Good to know it has a bit of a slow start. I just finished reading Good Girls Lie and wow! Talk about a crazy, suspenseful ride.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Good Girls Lie! This one was very different from that one.

      Delete
  2. I actually read one this week! ;) Seanan McGuire's book :D

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting. I'm used to fast-paced thrillers, but I actually don't mind a slow burn as long as it's done well. I'll have to see what I think of this one. I've been a little on the fence about it, to be honest, but now I'm curious to see what it's all about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wouldn't call it my favorite, but her world building and sense of place was really excellent.

      Delete
  4. You remind me. I need to see where I'm at on the library waiting list for Broken Girls. :) The three year contract and isolation make me think very dark indoctrination thoughts. Glad it tightened up in the second half.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes! You definitely need to read The Broken Girls!

      Delete
  5. Sounds like an odd and mysterious school! Glad to hear you enjoyed the story even with the slow start.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a strange place. I just wish the plot had been a bit stronger.

      Delete
  6. Your description of the slow burn pacing of it made me winder if this was part of a series — but it’s not. Not sure this entirely my cup of tea yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You might be on to something with that idea! The pacing really did feel like a multi-book series, but the plot was completely contained to this one book. That's a great way to describe it though.

      Delete
  7. Probably not one I'd pick up for myself but sounds like you liked it overall - or at least the writing.

    I loved your picture of it on Instgram.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

    ReplyDelete
  8. You're right - the boarding school is almost a genre unto itself. And it's one I've never really enjoyed - not a fan of the 'mean girl' dynamic. Much of it is happening on campuses somewhere...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true. I think that is partly why these stories are resonating with so many readers. Many have gone through similar school situations.

      Delete
  9. I do love the setting. Despite the slow start this does sound good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The setting is the star attraction with this one!

      Delete
  10. I like the way this one sounds so atmospheric. It seems like the setting was really well done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The atmosphere really was so well done in this one!

      Delete
  11. Damnit, Ethan! Stop reading books I want to read!

    ...just kidding, please find me all the boarding school books you can. I am digging that sub-genre hard. And am 12th in line for this one now ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's definitely more to come haha!

      Delete
    2. Good because it is my current fave kind of thriller!

      Delete
    3. I appreciate your attention to this matter and genre I am currently enthralled by. It may send my TBR ballooning but I need some distractions from the fact that In less than a month I will be back to teaching while being forced to send my baby back to school as well, and this is just a terrible idea all around. So yes, please, distractions!!

      Delete
    4. I'm sad but not surprised at the way they are handling schools. There is just no way they can confidently convince me that they are safe.

      Delete
    5. They're not safe, period. I teach at the second largest elementary school in our district and they are going with the 3/2 model where the first half of the alphabet goes Monday and Tuesday, the second half goes Thursday and Friday, and then Wednesdays will alternate between the two. The smaller districts around us are starting back with all students every day, including the district my daughter goes to school in. It is terrifying to think of sending her back and there are still so many questions left unanswered. I do not think we should start back until January in-person at the earliest.

      Delete
    6. Also, how do you safely transport students on buses or social distance in the cafeteria? It just really feels like limited thought/effort has been put into keeping kids and teachers safe.

      Delete
    7. YES!! So many of our students come by bus. Last year the bus I supervised was one of the largest, with some kids three to a seat. So, let's say one kid has COVID, they have no potentially infected 70 kids (average big bus capacity, I think), plus the driver. The driver has other routes, so that's many more kids potentially exposed. So the kid goes about his day, gets in the breakfast line and potentially exposes breakfast supervision staff (which often includes admins and support like psychs and social workers), plus the other kids in line and kitchen staff. Kid takes breakfast to classroom, potentially exposes classmates and teacher. Throws breakfast trash away in the big can outside the classroom, potentially exposes kids from other classrooms also throwing breakfast trash away. Same thing for lunch, and recess. Not to mention Specials, where they potentially expose that teacher, who then sees seven other classes in the day.

      And this is just my thoughts about an elementary school. The potential exposure rate is so much higher with middle and high schoolers moving to different classrooms.

      Delete
    8. That was kind of a rant, so I will say something positive, this book cover is gorgeous and I can't wait to read it <3

      Delete
    9. The rant is warranted though! I'm holding out hope that common sense will prevail. In Texas, at least, it looks like superintendents are starting to stand up for what they know to be the best course of action for their students and teachers. We all just need to keep speaking out.

      Delete
    10. Thank you, it is so frustrating to feel like teachers' voices are not being heard. So many of these decisions are being made without our input. We are already asked without being asked out loud to take bullets for kids in the event of an active shooter situation. Now we are being asked to go into a situation we already know is going to be deadly. Our numbers in Nebraska are relatively low with about 23,000 total cases. But the county with the highest numbers reported is the county I live/teach in.

      I am also highly concerned that now numbers are not going to be reported to the CDC, they are supposed to be sent directly to Washington. I am super excited for this joke of a corrupt administration to not report accurate numbers to the public.

      Delete
    11. Fiiiiiiinally up to #5 on 2 copies - and that's for the digital book! I feel like I retired my 'READ FASTER' posts too soon, lol

      Delete
  12. I have no idea why I love boarding school books, but I find myself automatically adding books with that setting to my TBR.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Oh that sounds like a strange place for sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was very disturbing in some parts haha.

      Delete
  14. Boarding schools as a setting already have a mysterious and creepy feel to them, probably because of that isolation and different sort of dynamic you mentioned. This book sounds like it explores a kind of interesting idea. Sorry it didn't give you as strong a plot as you wanted, but sounds like it wasn't bad.

    ReplyDelete
  15. You've made me so curious. I highly agree on what you said about setting and boarding schools. There is something... Maybe mysterious or dark around it?

    I'm also biased because I've watched a lot of horror movies that also love to use the creepy boarding school setting!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I do love a good boarding school novel! Good to know it's more of a slow burn story though than a page-turner.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you like the setting, I think you'd really enjoy this one!

      Delete
  17. I'm liking the cover of the book.

    ReplyDelete

Powered by Blogger.