The Institute by Stephen King – Four stars

Posted on October 1, 2019


The Institute
Stephen King
978 1529 35540 6
Hodder & Stoughton

Any new Stephen King novel is always keenly anticipated. And rightly so. I was working in a bookshop and was able to grab my copy straight out of the box when they arrived. Yahooo!

When we think of King, we think of ‘horror,’ of creepy things. Yet he has told a lot more stories than just creep-fests. He is a storyteller, and a damn fine one at that. But I do get frustrated at times with his endings. Take The Stand for example. It was a big novel with a lot happening, a big cast, an increasing crescendo and pace, then a bomb goes off. The End. As much as I enjoyed The Stand, I felt almost a little cheated by that brief ending. So, would we run into that unsatisfying type of end in this new novel, The Institute?

What if people existed who had even mild telepathic or telekinetic powers? Could we harness that in some way for national or international benefit? What if those people were children? Is harm to one justified in saving many? That is King’s scenario. A secretive outfit tracks children of even marginal extrasensory powers, in order to bring them into a base and ultimately harness their powers. But the methods used to harness that power are brutal and even lethal.

Little things can have big consequences. For example, early in the US Civil War, Robert E Lee was running rampant with his Army of Virginia and moving on Washington. Take Washington and the war would be over. Then one lucky Union soldier found some cigars laying on the ground, wrapped in a copy of Lee’s plans of attack. That simple act of a Confederate officer wrapping those cigars in that piece of paper, ultimately cost the Confederates the battle for Washington and their big chance to win the war. While King’s novel has nothing to do with the Civil War, little things having much bigger, unintended consequences, is a consistent theme through his novel. A former cop on a whim gives up his seat on a plane and goes hitching his way around for a while. The institute decides to take a very intelligent child despite his lesser extrasensory power. Acts of brutality open much bigger doors than ever suspected.

The mark of a storyteller is that you want to keep reading, wanting to know where this story is going. And The Institute is typical of King’s work in that regard. Just what is going to happen next? I also liked the way King developed his characters. We have kids playing key roles in the story, but King the way has developed them, including the genius kid, has avoided the trap of them becoming super-achieving. smart alec, little pains in the butt.

So, I like the story development, the themes and the characters – but what about my bugbear, the ending? Well it does have a big climax and a bloody one at that. The immediate baddies have been taken down. But what about the bigger picture? In the final few pages you are left wondering. Have they really stopped anything in the bigger scheme of things? And I suspect that was King’s intention all along. Endings aren’t necessarily always clean cut.

The author’s note at the end is also worth reading. It pays tribute to someone while at the same time highlighting how much an author may rely on help and input from others.

While containing horrific events, The Institute is not a horror novel as such. It is more a suspense with some ESP thrown. And it is a good mix. This novel is definitely worth reading, not just by King’s fans but by fans of good storytelling.



Posted in: Review