I had such high hopes for Catherine House. I’ve loved every dark academia book I’ve read, including The Secret History and If We Were Villains (which honestly kept me awake at night). This book is stunningly beautiful, and also promises a gothic setting, suspenseful plot and creeping tension. Unfortunately Catherine House manages to deliver on precisely none of those things.
Plot summary for Catherine House:
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.
Star Rating for Catherine House: * * (two stars)
Well. Where to start. Actually, I suppose that’s sort of the problem – Catherine House never seems to actually get going. For the first two thirds or so, it’s just a bunch of teenagers going to an isolated boarding school. The rules of the house are a bit odd, but nothing particularly outlandish. No creepy vibes, no shadowy personages, no nothing. The school isn’t even that strange – they just expect their students to work hard. It’s actually quite dull – nothing fundamental really happens at all.
After the two thirds mark, 23 find out that there’s some mystery specialist curricululm. It’s a pseudo-science type thing about the energy contained within everything, but Catherine House never really even tries to explain it. The main character, whose perspective we follow, never gets involved with it, so we don’t either. Even when we find out a bit more, it’s just… nothing. There’s no burning desire to find out what’s going on, as even the main character isn’t that interested.
Ines was such a strange choice for a main character. She’s a sulky, disinterested girl, who really isn’t bothered about much. She doesn’t go to her classes (and never receives any comeuppance) and just sort of shrugs at life. Unfortunately this filters through the pages and results in the reader not really caring all that much either. She isn’t shocked at the few things she probably should be, and there doesn’t seem to be any feeling in any of her relationships either. She’s just flat, and therefore so is the book.
Even the ending is dull and lifeless. It’s one of those where you can interpret how you choose. I’m not usually a fan of this anyway as I think sometimes it’s used so the author can avoid making to make a decision. In Catherine House it’s particularly galling as it renders the entire book and everything that happened (or didn’t happen, more relevantly) entirely pointless. Nothing is achieved, nothing has progressed. So why bother? It’sa ridiculously weak ending.
It’s just such a vague book, with no depth – and it’s short too( 320 pages), so it’s not like there wasn’t room to add some explanation, or atmosphere, or something. There’s just nothing here; nothing memorable at all. It’s a shame because I had such high hopes for Catherine House. The general idea of the plot had promise, but it definitely needed more to really reach its potential.
Read a more positive review of Catherine House at The Nerd Daily.