Catherine House: A modern gothic novel

A dark, foreboding read that drummed up feelings of being locked in beautiful, gothic architecture, so that at first your prison seems like a palace. A perfect read for the fall, and a nod to the great gothic classics.

READ IF YOU…

  • Want a foreboding atmosphere
  • Like dark academia
  • Want a book where the house is its own entity

TitleCatherine House | Author: Elisabeth Thomas  Rating: 3/5

We are in the house, and the house is in me.

Thus the books instills in us a deep-seated dread that builds as the story progresses. Catherine House is an elite, exclusive 3-year university that is highly selective in who they admit. However, the selection process is unknown, and the best and brightest aren’t necessarily the chosen ones. Take Ines, for example, the main character, she spirals into drugs and misbehavior before she is encouraged by a teacher to apply to Catherine House. She’s accepted, to her surprise, and since she has little to go back home for, she accepts her admission. She is similar to the other students: most have nowhere else to go, don’t want to be home, may not have anyone much to miss them, and don’t feel like they belong.

The school itself is more than exclusive, it’s exclusionary. It forbids devices, phone calls home unless you’ve earned enough points, it gives students the outfits they’re allowed to wear, and controls schedules. This is beyond Wilder Girls in terms of social quarantining; this is experimental and, perhaps, cultish.

The author, Elisabeth Thomas, is a Yale University graduate, and the book was inspired by her thoughts on elite American schools and about the prestige and even secretiveness that surrounds these universities. Catherine House itself is just that, but to a whole other degree. It does more than cultivate elitism, it almost brainwashes its students into staying long past the 3 years, some becoming professors themselves at the House.

I’m not sure what I think of the plot: it seems mundane, but also, twisted, at the same time. You have a building sense of dread that something is inherently wrong about the House, but you don’t quite know what. It’s what gives the story that gothic feel, something akin to Rebecca’s Manderley, or Jane Eyre’s Thornfield Hall. And that where the book shines.

The story is also part-sci-fi to me: there are experiments on “plasm” going on in the labs that the students know nothing of except for the elite elite students who are accepted into that program of study. But everything is so hush-hush that you wonder what sort of illegal experiments are being conducted on campus grounds. Coupled with students randomly dying, but no bodies being seen, and students being locked up in social isolation as punishment, and pins being stuck into heads that seem to control mood, you wonder if the government is in on Catherine House.

The deepest and most enigmatic character is not any human, though, it’s the House itself. You almost get the sense the House is alive, its own entity, with its own personality, and that’s what makes the book a slow-burn with a dark atmosphere.

All in all, Catherine House was a dark, foreboding read that drummed up feelings of being locked in beautiful, gothic architecture, so that at first your prison seems like a palace. A perfect read for the fall, and a nod to the great gothic classics.

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