Review: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Ugh, this book is why I hate numeric ratings!

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Published May 2020

Dark Fiction  |  Goodreads  |  Amazon 

Source: Library Borrow
A story about a dangerously curious young undergraduate whose rebelliousness leads her to discover a shocking secret involving an exclusive circle of students . . . and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.

You are in the house and the house is in the woods.
You are in the house and the house is in you . . .

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.

My 2 Cents For Free!

We read Catherine House for the July Ladies of Horror Fiction Readalong you can join the discussion here if you’d like: Catherine House Discussion at Goodreads

I’m not going to get into a discussion about what is or isn’t horror and expectations and all that. I’m going to review this book as I experienced it. I like all kinds of things from the most extreme horror novel to the sweetest cupcake of a romance and my most favorite novels are those that grab me with a unique surprising plot and/or characters who keep me reading despite my distracted mess of a brain.

I liked some of this book and I am giving it a three after a bit of thought. The book is broken up into years. Year One was my absolute favorite. It set up the intrigue, secrets, described the grounds, the creepy interior of Catherine House, and introduced us to Ines and gave us a bit of insight into why Ines is so lackadaisical about everything. She’s the type who sort of floats through life without caring too much about anything or anyone but she has reasons for her behavior. Unfortunately, her attitude about life didn’t make her a compelling heroine for me after a while.

Book One was definitely my favorite part of the story. I was intrigued, I wanted to discover all the secrets and I wanted them to be AWFUL. But then Year Two occurred and I found myself a little tired of all of the talk of parties and bed-hopping and drinking and snack eating because none of it was interesting to me. I have nothing against any of those things if they enhance and add interest to the story but that wasn’t the case for me here. Talk of them just filled up too much space and I found myself desperate for more character connection and for more of the interesting secrets hiding within the house.

The final section of the book picked up but the ending didn’t thrill me after all of the build-up I was hoping for something a little more . . . I don’t know, shocking and less lifeless, I suppose. But it was indeed in character so it made sense.

I listened to this as an unabridged audiobook that I purchased from Audible. If you enjoy audios and are curious about this book I highly recommend doing it that way. I’m honestly not sure if I would’ve felt compelled to keep going after Year Two but the narration was done so well that it wasn’t a chore for me to keep listening. The voices are unique and fit the characters well.

This one is so hard for me to rate. The story itself is a two and a half for me but the narration was excellent so I’m going to compromise and give it a three.

3 out of 5 


  1. Some books are hard to rate. I had a book like that that I just wrote the review for and keep thinking that I should go back and give it a lower rating.

    1. Yep, I know that feeling! I've had to go back and change a rating or two when someone pointed out that the review sounded more like I didn't like it so why was I giving a 3? They were correct.

  2. Sorry this one wasn't better. That's disappointing.


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