“You are in the house and the house is in the woods. The woods are in the house. The stairs are in the house. Down the stairs is the hallway, and the end of the hallway is the ballroom. You are in the ballroom. The ballroom is in the house. You are in the house and the house is in you.”
Catherine House is an elite University like no other, once selected, her students must adhere to the strict rules for their whole three-year attendance; no contact with the outside world, no outside music or books, you cannot leave the grounds, you will give yourself fully to Catherine House. In return, her students will be given a top class education, room, and board, all at no cost.
Shrouded in mystery Catherine House has had her fair share of detractors questioning what happens at the University, and the rumoured experiments that take place. Following a rigorous application process, Ines arrives for her first day at Catherine House, running from her old life she seeks comfort in the stability of the house. However, it isn’t long until she becomes curious about what the house wants in return from the students, and the validity of the rumours.
Ines is a protagonist you have unlikely seen previously. Almost entirely apathetic in her curious thoughts, she takes things slow, showing very little emotion. Content to spend her days eating and having meaningless sex, she doesn’t care to question the house’s intents until she can no longer ignore it. I found Ines to be hypnotically written, with Elisabeth Thomas capturing the beauty of the house through all Ines’ senses. Additionally, I found it refreshing to see a female protagonist who was confident in her sexuality, without it being seen as immoral or crude.
Some may state that the book itself holds no real plot, and they may be correct, with Catherine House not having a traditional beginning, middle, and ending plotwise. Catherine House is more about the experience of the every day, and the mundane. We can follow Ines through her day-to-day routine for a whole chapter, but the beauty that is captured creates an unnerving, yet enticing atmosphere.
As a debut novel, Elisabeth Thomas has created an ethereal piece that should be appreciated for what it is, rather than what it would have been in another author’s hands. I am very much looking forward to reading more by Elisabeth Thomas and seeing where her career takes her.
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