... [an] excellent narrative ... Thomas does an incredible job with her descriptions here, helping the reader visualize the decay and neglect lingering under the surface ... The strength of this debut novel relies on its refusal to adhere to any sort of genre conventions ... The descriptions in the book are what really ground the story; from the depiction of the varied buildings of Catherine House to the visceral and constant thoughts about food and drink, Thomas builds a thick atmosphere. The book’s setting provides just as much fodder for thought and discussion as do its characters or plot. In fact, plot is secondary to the book as a whole ... That’s not to say the central mystery of the book—What is plasm and what is Catherine House doing with it?—isn’t relevant ...The novel’s vagueness is a huge part of its charm, and it underlines the fact that it’s Ines’s journey that is central here, rather than answering questions. Ines never exactly becomes a likable character, but that hardly matters—the reader becomes emotionally invested in her journey regardless. Thomas is trying to show readers what it feels like to not fit into the place you’re supposed to belong, to not even fit inside your own skin. 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.
... a coming-of-age story, a thriller, science-fiction and a Gothic novel all at once. These elements should feel incongruous, but in the strange world of Catherine House they blend together in a way that makes perfect internal sense ... employs that wonderful Gothic convention of an inexplicable sense of wrongness, which pervades the narrative ... There is never a moment when Ines, or the reader, can fully let her guard down and trust that any of Catherine House’s strange rituals and traditions are benign, and as Ines’ curiosity about plasm becomes a fixation, the atmosphere of the novel takes on an even more sinister feel ... Much of Catherine House is devoted to building the world that Ines and her friends inhabit, a narrative strategy that delays some of the suspense. However, by crafting a truly immersive experience, Thomas ratchets up the sense of dread as both Ines and readers begin to see Catherine House for what it truly is. With a compelling narrator and truly inventive setting, Catherine House embraces Gothic conventions even as it defies expectation and utilizes them in new and exciting ways. It challenges the genre while embracing it and takes readers on a truly unique journey.
If you are naturally drawn to the traditional gothic-style novel, or the trope of a mysterious private university hiding a dark secret or two, then Elisabeth Thomas’s debut Catherine House is a book you won’t want to miss! ... The novel’s plot is a bit predictable, however this does not detract from the desire Thomas creates in the reader to learn more about Catherine House and its inhabitants. The author shines most brightly in her development of a setting which is simultaneously intriguing and off-putting to the reader, an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue that is strong enough to keep the reader wanting more. Readers may also find it interesting to note that Thomas draws on her own experiences as a Yale graduate (where, yes, she was a member of a fabled secret society!) in creating this tale ... Thomas also adds a new twist to an old genre by incorporating a cast of diverse characters unlike those typically seen in novels described as 'gothic' ... a good read for fans of a slow-burn, or a more character-driven novel. And here the most important, the most intriguing, character is the house itself!
Gothic horror provides the architecture for an arrestingly strange melange of speculative fiction and teen trauma in this atmospheric debut novel ... Ines’s apathy can drag but nibbling menace spurs the plot onwards.
At times, the narrative stretches a bit thin, repeating certain motifs as the characters roam the halls, entering one mysterious room after another. But the novel compensates for redundancy with some wonderfully horrific and truly shocking discoveries within these locked antechambers. 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.
... atmospheric ... such an unusual book. The device of special school as a place of both revelation and terror is nothing new. Thomas’ prose is pensive and moody, embodied by Ines herself. This is an eerie tale with most questions left unanswered. Ines and readers learn enough to be worried and afraid, but are lulled by the decaying richness and sumptuous yet controlled comforts of Catherine House. Thomas does such interesting work as the fictional place and her writing style share so much: gorgeous details masking dread, uncertainty and awe ... What exactly is Catherine House about? It is hard to say. Thomas is examining pain and depression, fear and loneliness, the siren song of success and discovery. But she gives very little to her characters, and thus to her readers, by way of answers. Instead, we, like Ines, are dropped into the middle of a nightmarish three-year journey that may lead to realization, to something quite terrible indeed, or, honestly, to nowhere in particular. The writing and setting are compelling, and the emotions swing between visceral and dulled in this curious coming-of-age story.
For fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), Catherine House is a haunting, atmospheric reflection on the discovery of self and others. At times terrifying, always gorgeously captivating, Thomas’ debut is one not to be missed, and perhaps to be revisited frequently.
... spellbinding ... Surreal imagery, spare characterization, and artful, hypnotic prose lend Thomas’s tale a delirious air, but at the book’s core lies a profound portrait of depression and adolescent turmoil. Fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History will devour this philosophical fever dream.
Thomas' debut borrows from the grand tradition of the gothic, exchanging ghosts for dubious scientific experimentation and excavating how figures of power and privilege manipulate disadvantaged students to their own benefit. Thomas is at her best when she cracks open the conventions of elite spaces and turns them on their heads ... Because Ines has experienced so much trauma, however, she's often disconnected and distant from the characters and events that propel the plot forward. Even her curiosity and ability to explore Catherine's depths are tamped down by depression and fear. This results in muted, lyrical observations about what it feels like to be in 'the house...in the woods,' but it also means the reader only learns as much as Ines herself can see and process. In the end, we're shut out of the mysteries of Catherine House, too. A promising but uneven debut that walks the line between speculative fiction and ghost story.