Thanks to NetGalley and Custom House for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: May 12th, 2020
Synopsis: A gothic-infused debut of literary suspense, set within a secluded, elite university and following a dangerously curious, rebellious undergraduate who uncovers a shocking secret about an exclusive circle of students…and the dark truth beneath her school’s promise of prestige.
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 a future of sublime power and prestige, and that its graduates can become anything or anyone they desire.
Among this year’s incoming class is Ines Murillo, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. Even the school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves in the formidable iron gates of Catherine. For Ines it is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had. But the House’s strange protocols soon make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when tragedy strikes, 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 within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.
Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric of Sarah Waters, with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.
Catherine House is an odd little book that’s left me in a bit of a quandary as to how I feel about it. On the one hand, while it starts with the ubiquitous sinister boarding school trope, the direction it takes that in is decidedly different from anything I’ve read before. So, kudos for originality and creativity. And although I can’t say I truly liked any of the characters, I did find them very intriguing in a sort of perverse, watching a trainwreck sort of way. They reminded me a little of the ones in The Magicians, by Lev Grossman—very complex, at times annoying, with questionable motives. I also liked the creepy atmospheric world building and setting. The premise promises “shocking twists…sure to leave readers breathless,” but that isn’t the case as the pace is slow enough that I kept thinking thank goodness it’s a relatively short book. Just as the rest of the book did, the lackluster ending has also left me conflicted. After mulling things over though, I’m going to recommend this quirky read. It has its flaws, but it’s a unique read that I think is definitely worth trying out for yourself particularly if you don’t mind meandering plots and sketchy characters.