Book Reviews

Review: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Reading Catherine House was like being trapped in a gothic house. Full of atmospheric vibes, Thomas’s debut is simmering with tension and mystery. If you love the idea of a gothic dark academia Catherine House might be for you. For me, the lack of cohesive narrative left me feeling a bit frustrated. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


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

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Catherine House is a book that exudes pure atmosphere. With a main character who still remains somewhat of a mystery, reading will take you on a journey of mystery. The feeling I was left with, was one of questions. Throughout I didn’t know as much about the character to get a sense of what motivated her. At the same time, the intrigue slowly unfolds throughout the book, and I’m still not sure what to think of that ending. I wasn’t quite sure where the book was going, and where it was taking me.

And, to be honest, I’m still not sure. I’m kind of disappointed because I was so ready to love this – and now I’m wondering if dark academia is not my thing?? – but I felt like the mystery element didn’t pay off in a way I was expecting. I have a lot of questions, which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing, but I didn’t have enough of other elements to make up my confusion. Catherine House is a book that is all about atmosphere. I truly enjoyed the atmosphere and the subtle tension and intrigue. But for me, then I have to also be fascinated by the characters or the plot.

Ultimately if you know to expect a slower paced book and want atmosphere, then you might enjoy this one! I just don’t think it was for me. Find Catherine House on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


What is a book that you associate with a strong atmosphere?

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.