It wasn’t until my second son was born and keeping me up all night that I read WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I can’t imagine what drove me to choose it as my escape at two in the morning while my new baby refused to sleep anywhere but my chest. Sleep for me was only a memory at this stage, and looking back now, perhaps I was even a bit out-of-my-mind. Maybe that’s why my book choice makes sense, in a way. The dark romance, the gothic setting, the moors, the torment, the madness. Oh, Heathcliff! Sure, this was the perfect thing to read on my smartphone while wandering in a bathrobe in the dark and quiet house, surrounded by the gray outlines of swings and bassinets and play cribs, a baby in my arms.
It doesn’t really surprise me that I chose to read it, if I’m being honest. I like the dark things, the eerie, and somewhat wicked-seeming things. The forbidden and lonely. Elisabeth Thomas has written a book called CATHERINE HOUSE (Custom House 5/12/2020) that made me feel like I was in the confusing fog between awake and deeply dreaming. The story isn’t confusing. That’s not what I mean. It’s that the characters, especially the main character, Ines, are living in a world that seems like it could be real, but if we didn’t have to blink, if we could focus just a little longer on what’s going on, we’d see the facade, the tricks of the light and slight-of-hand. There’s a well-crafted air of shadow-play to the story.
Following the college-aged students who move into an old school building to get a special kind of education from the staff of the Catherine House, the reader of this book will find herself wondering what it could mean to be part of the chosen crowd. Thomas’ gothic-mystery style story plays with scientific ideas, human behavior, femininity and power, the fluidity of sexuality, and the idealistic racial un-divide. It’s a path through a dark and thorny wood with flawed characters; people who are lost even when the way is clear and are lonely in a crowded room. They are those, like many of us, who have yet to become a part of something bigger. They’re searching for that acceptance and Catherine House promises to deliver. While there, they love. They lose. They find friendship and courage and the heartbreak of betrayal.
For Elisabeth Thomas, this is a strong debut. No doubt her Yale education had an influence on this novel. The mystery that surrounds a lauded community, the set-apart-ness, the promise of life leveled-up by an association with prestige, are all present in the story along with the possibility of divergence to a darker side of privilege. She’s done a wonderful job of capturing a moment of choice.
Which way will you go?
For me, I will go to the moors and join Catherine in the haunting of Heathcliff every time.
For more information on CATHERINE HOUSE and Elisabeth Thomas, please see my Title Page Podcast episode on which Ms. Thomas appeared. You can listen here!