2022 Reading Challenge

2022 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 260 books.
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Book Review: Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

This one was, well, weird. And I’m still not sure if I mean that in a good way…

I was highly intrigued by the concept and loved the cover. The beginning drew me in straightaway and I was confident this was going to be a great fit for me. Then about half-way through I found the story drifting away from me and nearly left it altogether. It devolved from a quirky, off-kilter, vaguely menacing tale about something I couldn’t quite figure out into a disconcerting melange of ennui and bizarre inexplicables that left me wanting to shake every single character to see what fell out.

I started skimming a bit at that point, until things started coming to a head about 3/4 of the way through. (I’d like to point out that I had absolutely zero trouble staying with the story doing this, suggesting to me that my irritation at the repetitive nature of the characters’ whining and slogging through every day was, in fact, due to its repetition and not just to my losing interest.) From there I read every word, not so much because I was enraptured with where things were going, but because I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it and felt that the “something” I sensed in the beginning was slipping away without the kind of “AHA!” resolution I was hoping for… I read every word to make sure it wasn’t me missing something, but the story not delivering it.

And then it ended.

For me, the end came with a whimper not a bang, and I was surprisingly disappointed by that, despite the distancing that I’d been feeling from the story for some time at that point. I really liked the way it was set up initially and felt let down that it didn’t wrap up for me with that same sense of dramatic energy. It’s possible this one just wasn’t a good fit for me; I got bored quickly with the tales of promiscuity and free-range drinking and the repetitive and monotonal nature of the interactions between characters (both students and teachers). It felt like I was supposed to be shocked but mostly I was just numbed by it all.

And the characters never really felt like three-dimensional human beings to me; they too felt repetitive and monotonal, and the “quirks” that were supposed to identify the characters as distinctive (YaYa’s clothes, Baby’s obsessions, Ines’ defiance) felt less like colorful individual personality traits and more like adjectives written on a page in black and white with very little fleshing them out. It made it hard to connect to them in a meaningful way, which made the slower bits of the story that much more difficult to work through. At one point, I’d skim a couple of paragraphs (or pages) and it seemed like when I rejoined the “action”, the characters were basically doing the exact same thing on a different day.

There was a very cool idea here, full of dark menace and possibility. For me, those things never felt fully developed. From the reviews I’ve seen, people either connect with this one and love it, or they (like me) never did and don’t. The opening is very strong; if you’re willing to give it a try, it’s worth it for that alone. You can always walk away – or maybe you can’t/won’t. Maybe you’ll find yourself like me (and Ines), unable to walk away until you know what *really* happens at Catherine House. And maybe that’s how (and what) the book ultimately does deliver – that realization that sometimes, even when we don’t want to, we HAVE to see things through to the bitter end…

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my obligation-free review copy.

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