Book Review – The Institute by Stephen King

books, reviews

img_0701-012846341854087544838.jpeg5_star_rating_system_2_and_a_half_stars Stephen King has written a lot of books. The man is a writing machine. He cracks out so many novels in a year that it’s difficult to imagine him doing anything else. But it is something that has helped him become super popular. I’d say that Stephen King fans are some of the most passionate fans out there. So passionate that they are unwilling to see anything wrong with the man. Recently on Twitter, King made a comment that a critic, Jake Kerridge, had made a comment about the writer’s endings. This annoyed me for several reasons. Number 1, I happen to think Kerridge is right and the endings to King’s recent books have all been wank. Number 2, why is he bitching about a critic anyway? It’s part of the job right. You don’t single out one reviewer and name and shame him if you’re Stephen King. Number 3, his army of fans jumped on the tweet and right up King’s arse. To say the replies were fawning is a major understatement. I was embarrassed for them. I’m the kind of person who gets obsessed about the things I like but, at least, I have enough self-awareness (or maybe shame) to do it privately. So, I was unsurprised to see the huge number of people on GoodReads giving this book 5 stars. If 50 Shades of Gray had been released under King’s name, his fans would have hailed it a masterpiece.

I’ve not had a great time with Stephen King novels in the last decade or so. The so-called King of Horror has failed to bring me anywhere near terror and hasn’t written a decent ending in years. I’m not sure he could get much lower than the end of Revival or End of Watch but I’m always prepared. Because, despite my constant disappointment, I always go back to him. I always have the hope that he’ll get back to his best. The Institute could very well have been that book. It all sounded great. After Stranger Things borrowed so much from It, I guess it was only right that the author would borrow from the Netflix original show.

The Institute of the title is a secret government testing centre. For decades, children with special abilities are kidnapped from their homes and taken to the secret base. They are locked up, injected with unknown substances, and subjected to torturous experiments. Then, without warning, the residents are taken away for the next stage of their journey. Nobody knows what happens in Back Half but they are sure it’s not good. No matter how often their captors tell them they’ll be back home in no time. It appears as though there is no hope for these young people. Until the arrival of two new residents creates a chance for escape.

The hero of The Institute is 12-year-old Luke Ellis. Luke has always been a bit of a strange kid. He is super-smart and, before he was kidnapped, was all set to take on two degrees at top colleges. However, Luke has another special ability. He has a mild ability for telekinesis. It’s not much but, combined with his IQ, it was enough to get him taken to the secret centre in Maine. Soon Luke is joined by 10-year-old Avery, one of the most powerful telepaths the facility has ever seen. Together, the pair can come up with a way for Luke to escape and potentially find help. But can he convince someone of this crazy tale of abilities, shots, and dots?

Having read the synopsis of this book beforehand, it was a little disconcerting that the first part of the book introduces us to Tim Jamieson. A one-time police officer who is slowly making his to New York. Very slowly, in fact, because he’s just accepted a job in the town of DuPray. Just as you start wondering why the story of psychic kids is focusing on a middle-aged man, he disappears for most of the novel. Which is indicative of King’s approach to this novel. It is a lot. At 485 pages, I think the book is about 200 pages too long. Because, I have to be honest, a lot of it bored me. A lot of the chapters added nothing to the narrative and only resulted in dragging it out. It wasn’t as if he was doing it to add to the tension either. Nor is it an example of King’s wonderful attention to detail or world-building. It’s just pointless.

I do think that King is a wonderful writer. He can perfectly describe a place and his dialogue is nearly always realistic. He has a wonderful command of the English language and there are moments when this book comes alive. However, in terms of storytelling, this book is sorely lacking. King focuses so much on Luke’s story and I think he misses a trick. As soon as the action leaves the secret facility, things get a lot less exciting. What could have been a very interesting and horrible story, just ends up being an obvious and underwhelming affair. This is storytelling by the book. Paint by numbers narrative. It never veers from the obvious path and you won’t be surprised by how everything ends. The final third of the book bored me. It just seemed that the writer’s focus was on the wrong thing.

This isn’t the worst Stephen King book I’ve read in recent years but it certainly could have been great. This novel feels very superficial. If all you need to have a good time is a dramatic shoot-out and mentions of special powers, then you’ll have a rip-roaring good time. However, if you prefer a well-written and complex story with incredible detail, you’ll probably be disappointed. Maybe if King didn’t churn out quite so many books a year, he’d spend a bit more time making sure each one was the quality he’s known for?


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