Ines Murillo is among the elite few selected to attend Catherine House, which promises its graduates sublime power and prestige. In exchange for free tuition, room, and board, students must completely remove themselves from the outside world for three years, summers included. But the House's strange protocols soon make this refuge feel increasingly like a gilded prison.
... [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!