Thursday, August 18, 2011

'Tout Sweet: Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in France' by Karen Wheeler

First published in the UK in 2009,
US publication, 2011
Memoir, trade pb, 311 p.
Source: Sourcebooks
From the back cover:
Fashion editor Karen Wheeler thought she had it all: a glamorous job, a handsome boyfriend, a fabulous home, and an even more fabulous assortment of gorgeous shoes. But not all is as it seems, and on an impulse she decides to wave good-bye to her glamorous city lifestyle and go it alone in a run-down house in rural France.

Tout Sweet is the perfect read for anyone who dreams of chucking away her Blackberry in favor of real blackberrying and downshifting to a romantic, alluring locale where new friendships, and new loves, are just some of the treasures to be found amongst life’s simple pleasures.

I picked this book up last week, and once I had, found that I didn’t want to put it down. It made my long commutes fly by, and was a lovely way to escape the extreme summer heat. For a little while at least.

Karen, broken-hearted in London, stumbled upon an opportunity to buy an old house in rural France and this memoir describes her adventures trying to fix up the house, and adjust to her new life. It seems a little weird to say this in a review of a memoir, since although she is a character in the story, she is a real person, but Karen was entirely likeable. I really enjoyed her warm, honest voice sharing the ups and downs of finding herself knee-deep in home-repairs, and coping with doing it all on her own. Balanced nicely with, often humorous, tales of the people she meets in the village, some of them certainly more eccentric than others.

I spent a few months in rural France myself on a student exchange in high school many many years ago, and reading Tout Sweet brought back some nice memories of that time. The downside though is that I’m now seriously longing for the French countryside. I don’t think buying a house there, however run-down, is in my future, but oh how I wish it were. Tokyo was exciting when I first arrived, but as I’m getting older (ahem) I find myself preferring quiet and nature to the neon hustle of this crowded metropolis. The slower pace of life she describes, as well as the beautiful surroundings, all sound positively idyllic.
Rounding the chateau, I turn into a narrow country lane and keep walking. I have no idea where I am going but it doesn’t matter. Within minutes, I am in beautiful, open countryside, surrounded by lush green and golden fields as far as the eye can see. I pass the occasional field of sheep but there is absolutely no one else around but me. I walk and walk, enjoying the lemony-pale spring sunshine and grass verges dotted with poppies and bluebells. The longer I walk, the happier I feel. How could I not know that such beauty lay on my doorstep? (p. 189)
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? And even if we can’t all pick up and move to France, her story is inspiring. In addition to being a fun, entertaining read, it’s also a nice reminder that even when life doesn’t go as expected, something good is around the corner. We just have to have the courage to do something different. I’m very glad to find out that she’s already written a sequel, Toute Allure: Falling in Love in Rural France, and is working on a third book. I’m very much looking forward to more amusing, candid stories from Karen Wheeler.

Karen also blogs about her life in France at Tout Sweet: My Life in a Rural French Village. And can be found on Twitter.

Buy Tout Sweet at: | | |

The small print: This book was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes. Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively. Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission. For more information please visit my About Page.


  1. some one else reviewed this a couple weeks ago it reminded me a lot of peter mayles books from 90's when he went to france ,I do like watch programmes about people who have moved somewhere new maybe I should try a book like this at some point ,all the best stu

  2. This looks good. My husband is always saying we should live in the French countryside, so I think I'll pick this up for both of us to do a little vicarious living!

  3. Owl59 here.

    This summer has been quite humid and it must be terrible to be in Tokyo when they are cutting on air con. It sounds like an interesting book. Reminds me of "Under the Tuscan Sun" , which I love (only watched the movie, tho).

    Nice review!

  4. Not really in the habit of reading memoirs, but this sounds amazing. France is one of the places that is on my list to visit. great post!

  5. I am glad to hear this is enjoyable!

  6. I'm reading this one now! Not far in, but trying to polish it off by the end of the week. Here's hoping I have as much luck as you did.


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