Reading “Billy Summers” in Barcelona, Spain
The Book: Billy Summers by Stephen King
*No spoilers, just some details about the plot*
Stephen King has been one of my favorite authors since I was about 10 years old (probably way too young to have been reading him), in part because of his amazing world-building and character development, but mostly because of the overall consistency. I can feel safe picking up any of his books and knowing it’ll be a good read.
Billy Summers, his latest novel that came out in August this year, doesn’t disappoint. We meet the titled character and quickly learn he is a professional assassin who has worked hard at crafting a “dumb” persona over the years in his business dealings while actually being rather clever and intelligent.
He’s been hired for one last job. It’s an easy enough shot, but requires a huge time commitment as he must develop a new persona over the course of a few months. His cover story is that he’s working on a novel and he befriends his neighbors and those that he passes when he goes to his office.
What’s so fascinating about King are his plots. It’s enough to think that what I’ve just described is the primary arc of the story and plenty interesting enough, but on page 150 Billy Summers takes the shot. There are 435 pages in this book.
We learn more about Billy as the book goes on through his cover story that was the book he was assigned to pretend to write. (King always does a great job creating main characters who are writers.) Billy writes his book in the form of an autobiography and learns he loves the artform and continues to write even after the job is done. We learn about traumatic events from his childhood, his upbringing in an orphanage and his involvement in the war in Iraq.
Again, props to King for being able to write a book within a book and maintain such distinct voices.
Without giving anymore away, I was really happy with this novel even if it doesn’t come close to being one of my favorites of King’s. I only docked it half a star because I felt like a lot of the explanation near the end was rushed and rather confusing. But the ending itself—and the masterful twist that only King could execute—is satisfying even though it’s a punch to the gut, as most of his endings are.
- Over the world there are half-finished books—memoirs, poetry, novels, surefire plans for getting thin or getting rich—in desk drawers, because the work got too heavy for the people trying to carry it and they put it down.
- He is unpacking his life in the back seat of this stolen car and her heart breaks.
- “When I was writing, I forgot to be sad. I forgot to worry about the future. I forgot where I was. I didn’t know that could happen.”
- Did you know that you could sit in front of a screen or a pad of paper and change the world? It doesn’t last, the world always comes back, but before it does, it’s awesome. It’s everything.
The Place: Barcelona, Spain over Thanksgiving
I can never seem to put Stephen King books down so I finished this one over the course of a few days on my trip to Barcelona—mostly in the airport/on the plane, but on a few bus rides too.
I’ve visited a lot of countries in Europe but I’d never been to Spain. Before I went through the process of obtaining a visa in France, Barcelona was actually going to be my first destination. I don’t think I spent enough time there to accurately judge how much I liked the place.
I got in on Thanksgiving afternoon and stayed with my friend—a girl I’d met in Nice two-ish months ago. I returned Saturday at 7am so I didn’t even spend a full 48 hours there, but when roundtrip flights are less than $60, you have a place to stay and a few days off work, there’s no excuse not to go.
We didn’t explore too much the night I got in since her place was about 45 minutes from the center of the city and buses stopped running around 10:30pm. We walked around La Sagrada Familia and had some coffee and then a nice dinner in the Gothic Quarter.
The next day, we clocked about 13 miles since all we did was walk around. We took the cable car at Mount Montjuïc, sat by the water for a bit (did some reading there too), explored Citadel Park, went to the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas market and then had one of the best meals I’ve ever had at El Nacional’s Tapas Bar.
Seriously, amazing food. La Bomba was definitely my favorite and the sangria and desserts were to die for as well. Though I don’t plan on spending a month or two here as I travel around Europe (I think I’ll head to Alicante when I return to Spain), I might have to make a trip back just for the food.