CATHERINE HOUSE by Elisabeth Thomas
Custom House, May 2020
Whenever I read a book with a suspiciously low Goodreads rating I’m always all the more determined to love it – there’s something kind of fun about being in the minority in really ‘getting’ a book that goes over so many heads. Sadly not the case here. While I didn’t find this objectively terrible in any way, neither did I find it particularly special or pleasurable to read.
Following 18-year-old Ines who goes off to an experimental college, Catherine House subverts a lot of campus novel tropes. Ines isn’t characterized by a passion for academia or a thirst for belonging or a love for her school – she’s socially and academically dispassionate to a fault. Along with Ines’s lack of drive is a particularly conspicuous lack of atmosphere, and I think the Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Waters comparisons do this book a disservice if you go into it expecting a lush, indulgent, immersive setting.
While I did feel that Thomas did a great job of building suspense, to the point where I read this book in two sittings because there was something rather hypnotic about it, I also didn’t particularly care about what I was reading. There’s a mystery at the heart of the school’s scientific research department, and I’m not sure whether the twist fell flat or whether I just was never invested enough to be moved by it.
Again, I don’t think this was bad or even unsuccessful in what it set out to do, and I can see it working perfectly for a certain type of reader. Sadly it just wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
Thank you to Netgalley and Custom House for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.