Jeffrey is joined by Lucy Foley, the No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of novels such as The Hunting Party and The Guest List – to reveal which book and TV series she believes are ‘unputdownable’.
Hi, this is Jeffrey Archer, and welcome back to Unputdownable, the podcast that celebrates, indeed revels in those works of art and literature that are simply impossible to put down. Thank you for joining me.
As ever, on my podcast, I will be joined by a special guest who will come equipped with two recommendations. One must be a book. The other can be any cultural pursuit that fascinates them. It just needs to be something that has gripped them and leaves them wanting more.
I’ll be offering two recommendations of my own. In this episode, I am joined by someone who is rightly described as a crime fiction scholar who, despite her young age, has already five books to her credit, including a Sunday Times bestseller.
Her novels include The Book of Lost and Found, The Invitation, Last Letters from Istanbul, my favourite – The Hunting Party. And not far behind, The Guest List. My guest in this episode is, of course, Lucy Foley.
And welcome. Lucy Foley. Now, what I want to know, Lucy, is what have you been up to in the last few weeks? Because we’re all waiting for your new book.
Well, do you know, I feel like I have been sort of stuck in my writing garret a little, so it’s really nice to actually be talking to you and be having a conversation with someone.
So I’ve just been working on the final sort of copy edit. Of the Paris Apartment, which is out in March.
The copy edit – you’re at that late stage.
Yes. Finally. It felt like it would never come.
And you’re out in March. You’ll be published in March.
Out in March. Yeah.
And those fans of The Hunting Party, like myself, will be looking forward to it. But today you have to choose a book that you consider was unputdownable.
So I have chosen The Wheel Spins. It was titled first, and then it became The Lady Vanishes when it was made into a film by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, by Ethel Lena White. And it is just brilliant. For me, it’s the original Girl on the Train because it all takes place on a train tearing across Europe and it is completely unputdownable.
I confess that I have not read the book, but I have seen both films, the black and white version and the modern version. And because I’m 115 years old, I loved the black and white version and I love the story.
And by the way, I didn’t know it had another title. Thank you for that. Because I will say to you that I think The Lady Vanishes is a better title and was for those who have not read it. And I’m now going to read it. A magnificent film, which I was absolutely gripped by. But why did you find it unputdownable?
I think first I’ll start with the premise of the book because that in itself is sort of the perfect elevator pitch, I think, for a thriller.
It really is the first, the initial kind of girl on the train. The main character, Iris, gets on this train across Europe on her own. She doesn’t speak the language, she doesn’t understand anyone else in the carriage, apart from this woman, Miss Winifred Freud, who, halfway through the journey, disappears.
No one will believe Iris when she says this woman has disappeared. No one seems to understand her. They finally produce this woman that they claim is Miss Winifred Freud wearing her clothes. But Iris knows that’s not the case.
And that, for me, just kind of gives you the sort of unputdownableness of the book. In a nutshell, it’s this idea of not being able to understand anyone, not being understood yourself, knowing that something has happened, but not being able to get anyone to take you seriously.
It’s this feeling of being vulnerable, being alienated, which are wonderful kind of thriller elements for me. It’s also that you’ve got this train thundering through Europe so you can almost kind of feel the plot thundering ahead as you read.
And then I think what’s also wonderful is you see Miss Winifred Freud’s family waiting for her back home, her parents, her elderly parents and the dog. So you have this real sense of the emotional impact of her disappearance and the crime, as we learn, has been committed.
And tell me in the book that magic moment in the tunnel, without giving too much away, when she realizes she is right and everyone else is either cheating her or wrong. Is that brilliant in the book?
Oh, absolutely brilliant, I would say. I think it’s better because we have the privilege of being inside Iris’s mind and seeing her emotions, seeing her kind of struggle to try and work out whether she has actually made a mistake.
Because of course she’s had sunstroke, she’s had a hit, she thinks she’s been hit on head at some point, so she’s genuinely not sure. So we see that kind of interplay of emotions that sort of beginning to doubt herself and then that realization that, no, she is right and everyone else is lying to her. And that is a sort of goosebump moment, I think, for the reader.
Well, you’ve convinced me, Lucy. I shall now read the book. I love both the films. Particularly the black and white one. But I shall now read the book and I’m going to move on to my book, which was my favorite book of the last couple of years, a Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
Now, what I found remarkable about this book is that not only is it beautifully written, he’s a fine writer, but it’s a damn good story. And what’s special about the story is it’s original. It’s very difficult for an author nowadays to actually write something no one has thought of before.
And the genius of this book is not only has no one thought of it, but I suspect he got the outline for the story or the idea from the gentleman in question or one of his relations, I don’t know. But the premise for those, it’s a man who was an aristocrat in the days of the Tsars in Russia, and he becomes a friend, an unlikely friend of Lenin.
And when the revolution comes, of course, he ought to be put up against the wall and shot, but instead Lenin bans him to a magnificent hotel where he has to spend the rest of his life – not allowed. If he leaves the premises, Lenin will have him shot, but he has to stay on the premises.
And it’s what happens during his life because he has to stay on the premises. And I found that brilliantly, original and as important, beautifully written.
How about you, Lucy?
Oh, I absolutely love the book. I can’t – actually talking of books being made into films – I can’t wait to see the film that I know will be coming of this book. It feels like I don’t know if you like Wes Anderson’s films, but I feel like it could be a brilliant Wes Anderson film just because I think he’d do all the details so well.
Give us an example of a Wes Anderson film. So my readers, my unputdownables know what you’re talking about.
So, for example, the Grand Budapest Hotel or his forthcoming French Dispatch, which sounds wonderful.
No, I loved its sort of playfulness, which is why I think I thought of Wes Anderson. But at the same time, he have this sort of great melancholy and sense of kind of loneliness and isolation running through it.
And actually, it’s a really interesting book to have chosen at the moment, I think when we’re sort of coming out of lockdown and everyone’s been able to experience a little bit of that sort of isolation from one another.
Yes. Now, it’s clear to me, listening to you, that you are not only a lover of film, probably theater, but you have a great knowledge of it as well. So we’re going to move on to your second choice because you’ve chosen a TV series called Succession.
Now, I just want to say that I am a devoted fan and was shocked to read in the papers this morning that some snooty writer said, I think you’ll find it’s only the metropolitan elite who are watching it. I think that’s Bunkham. We’re all watching it, and I can’t wait for the next episode. But tell me why you like it.
So many reasons. I think on the surface, there is such something wonderful about watching the sort of 0.001% get their just desserts and seeing these very, very privileged people within their gilded lives be completely miserable and horrible to each other.
So that’s on the surface. But then, of course, that wouldn’t be interesting across two series and another series, which I, too, cannot wait to devour. I think it’s also the fact that actually, much as we love to hate these characters and enjoy them getting their just desserts, we also can’t help feeling for them a little because the writers, the brilliant writers, Jesse Armstrong, the screenwriter and his team have made them uncomfortably empathetic as characters.
We understand what they’re going through. We understand that they have a lot of pain. We understand that they’ve got all this history and this family stuff that’s messy and horrible even as we sort of want to see them have their downfall.
So it’s this sort of wonderful, complicated thing. And I think there’s also something oddly accessible about it because most of us have families, we understand how difficult families can be and all of that messiness and the kind of love that’s bound up in it as well.
So I think we’re seeing all that play out alongside this wonderful, almost fantastical, hugely privileged existence with these sort of gilded sets and this incredible kind of opulence. So there’s a lot going on.
I agree with all of that. And may I add, some of the finest acting I have seen. They’re winning award after ward, not by mistake. And what is interesting is in the six main characters, usually you have someone who you feel isn’t quite up to it.
Not a bit of it all. The five men are outstanding and the woman is evil and wonderful. I mean, she is just terrific.
She is brilliant.
And The Old Man is one of the finest performances I’ve seen on television. I put it up there with Alec Guinness and Ralph Richardson of the old days and I put it up there today with Anthony Hopkins. I mean, it’s a staggering performance and I can’t wait to see what he’s getting up to next week.
Now, I love the theater. I go to the theater twice a week. In fact, in the last three weeks, I’ve seen six productions, but of course, during lockdown, I wasn’t able to see anything. So it’s been a bit of a feast.
And I’m choosing for my unputdownable the Lehman Trilogy, in which Simon Russell Beale, truly one of England’s great stage actors, and I say stage actors because I recently saw him in a film about Stalin where he just took everybody else off the screen.
So he can not only can do it on stage, but he does it on screen. In the Lehman trilogy, we follow the family, the Lehman family, and how they came from nothing – bit like Succession, and rose to the very top, running a brilliant enterprise until one of them spotted a way of making more money by being dishonest.
It’s a magnificent insight as well into a family, and I put it up there with Succession and I’m delighted that it’s going to go to New York and will be seen on Broadway, and if they’re lucky enough to get Simon Russell Beale, and may I add, Adam Godly, what a lovely performance he gave.
He’s a typical, dare I say it, national theater player, who we vaguely remember the name, but no more. But I’ve never seen him give a bad performance. He is one of those true, absolute professionals that you relax immediately he walks onto a stage and he counters, Sir Simon, brilliantly.
So it’s coming back, chaps and lasses. So you will have a chance to see the Lehman trilogy.
Yes. Do you know, it reminded me how much I love this play, because I watched it, I think, could it have been on five years ago? Because it feels like a long time ago, pre COVID that I watched it.
You’re quite right. It was first at the National Theater and then transferred to the Piccadilly. So you, like me, saw it at the National?
Yes. And it made me think, I want to watch it again because it was such a brilliant, as you say, piece of writing, piece of acting, just all came together brilliantly. And such a feat to cover these three generations and to cover this sort of it’s a real kind of medieval wheel of Fortune we’re looking at here, I think, the structure of the thing.
All kind of classical tragedy in terms of its shape and scope and just thought it was brilliant.
The tragedy there, which you rightly point to, is the first and second generation were straight, honest, decent people making their way in the world and doing brilliantly.
And it wasn’t until the third generation, when one of them was a complete crook, that their reputation that they’d built up over so many years was suddenly shattered. And that was beautifully portrayed.
I thought at the end you’re meant to go out hating the Lehman Brothers. You go out feeling very sorry for the first and second generation and that takes some acting. So I’m with you. I thought it was a remarkable piece.
And Lucy, can I thank you for coming on my podcast. We all wish you great luck for the new book. Is there anything else you want to tell your fans before I throw you off my programme?
I would love to, if I have the opportunity, tell them about The Paris Apartment, which is my new book coming out in March. It’s set in a beautiful old Parisian apartment in which all of the apartments look into one another across a central courtyard.
So there’s a bit of a Rear Window vibe going on. And Jess turns up to stay with her brother Ben. But when she arrives, Ben has disappeared and she begins to suspect that someone in the building has something to do with it.
And it’s a kind of who done it, but also a bit of a quest and a detective story at the same time. And I’ve loved writing it.
Wow. It sounds to me unputdownable.
Well, thank you so much for having me, Jeffrey. I really enjoyed it.
Wasn’t she a wonderful guest? So I’d like to thank Lucy Foley for joining me in this particular episode of unputdownable. I don’t want you to miss out on any future episodes, so please hit, follow or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Join me next time when I’ll have another exciting guest who will bring their own stimulating thoughts and recommendations.
This is the bit where I have to tell you that my latest book, Over My Dead Body, has just been published and you can get it in hardback eBook and audiobook. I hope you enjoy it. Until we meet again.