Book Review: The Institute

‘Great events turn on small hinges…’

After Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, after Goosebumps and Point Horror, Stephen King inspired my first real love of literature. And boy, did I fall hard. Books like IT and Pet Sematary were massively influential in my formative years and they helped to inspire a lifelong love of horror that has shown no signs of abating in recent years. And while King’s more recent output has been patchy, I’ve still remained loyal to an author that I consider to be one of the greatest story tellers to ever hold a pen. And that’s what King is – a master storyteller. A voice around the campfire. A whisper in the classroom. And it is this ability to spin a chilling yarn capable of inspiring nightmares that has ensured King’s longevity. The Institute, released without much fanfare in 2019, is quietly King’s best novel for years… 

Tough to believe, but when twelve-year-old genius Luke Ellis is kidnapped from his home and taken to a shady government facility somewhere deep in the Maine woods his troubles are only just beginning. What follows is a horror/sci-fi hybrid novel that takes in telekinesis, mind control and conspiracy theories, all neatly packaged as a traditional Bildungsroman. In short, familiar territory for the master of horror but well-trodden ground is still capable of raising a great harvest.  

Some of King’s best and most beloved work combine horror with coming-of-age tales (Carrie, IT, Stand by Me) and while The Institute never quite reaches the level of those classics, it does genuinely feel akin to them. This novel would fit nicely into King’s 70s/80s golden era without looking out of place. Fast paced, engaging and darkly unsettling in places, King’s most recent horror novel demonstrates that the Maine author still has the capacity to shock and excite even all these years later. He is also has an uncanny ability to force the reader to care about the characters. I was fully invested with Luke Ellis by the end of the novel. As so with Avery, the even younger and more volatile boy who joins Luke at the institute. With Mrs Sigsby, he has even crafted one of his most formidable villains; drawing parallels with Rose the Hat from Doctor Sleep.  

The Institute is comforting confirmation that King is showing no signs of slowing down just yet. The upcoming TV adaptation from the pen of David Kelly also feels exciting. Long live the King.