Tout Sweet – Karen Wheeler

I said on my previous post that before the weekend was out I wanted to have finished my current book. Well I did. This is shallow, the only reason I picked this book up was because of the cover, and I think it was recommended through Amazon after having bought, Gervase Phinn and Jack Sheffield. Something caught my eye and the premise seemed rather promising.

In her mid-thirties Karen has it all: a career as a fashion editor, a handsome boyfriend, a fab flat in west London and an array of gorgeous shoes. But when her ‘plus one’ leaves, she wonders if there is more to life than high fashion. So, she hangs up her Manolos and waves goodbye to her city lifestyle, deciding to go it alone in a run-down house in rural Poitou-Charentes, western France. Once there, she encounters a host of new friends and unsuitable suitors, soon learning that true happiness can be found in the simplest of things – a bike ride through the countryside on a summer evening, or six glasses of Pinot in a neighbour’s garden. If you’ve ever dreamed of chucking away your BlackBerry and downshifting, Tout Sweet is perfect summer reading.

My Review

A book which fits into many different genres. This could be an autobiographical book, this book could be fiction and in parts it is but it is all based on the truth and real events just changed for ‘poetic licence’ it could also be a travel book. Which is where it is pitched from – Travel Writing. A strange concept but to be honest, it was the cover that attracted me, shallow I know. Not in which section the book was shelved in.

This is the story of Karen Wheeler, fashion journalist for a number of magazines and newspapers who decides that enough is enough and she is going to set up home in a village in France.  But the house she chooses, in fact the only house she views needs a lot of work to make it into the warm environment that is in her imagination. Here begins an exciting journey for us and Karen as we see how well she copes with living in one room after camping in a field and not having the chance to wear all her designer shoes, clothes and handbags. Well they stand out rather in this French Village and surrounding countryside and are not that practical!

We meet Karen’s French neighbours, ex-pats who have managed to integrate themselves into the community with some very interesting characters, Miranda, Elinor and Desmond. The couple Dylan and Lola who run the Liberty Bookshop become friends, offering sanctuary when the painting of her house goes wrong. Then there is the gorgeous baker with his gorgeous pain au chocolat, Jon Wakeman who seems to be interested in Karen but only when it suits him. Then there is the past Karen has to deal with, images and her life with Eric seem to be all around her, but finally she makes a decision and radically throws out a lot of her past possessions because she is starting to realise that sometimes life is so much happier with the simple things, a roaring fire, a good book and a glass of full-bodied red.

There is something of the Bridget Jones/Sex in the City to this book, but actually it is just one woman’s struggle to live with a decision and get the most out of it. Experiencing the French countryside, the sea, the village, the village markets with their tempting and tasty offerings and the locals. Karen Wheeler describes these with such emotion and feeling, that when she is driving back from Ile de Re and gets a puncture she leans “against the bonnet…I am surrounded by a vast expanse of countryside – a collage of different colours and textures”. I think this is the key to the book it is a collage of different genres and I would recommend to anyone who wants escapism into the dream of leaving the UK and starting somewhere afresh or even just trying to renovate their own home. You could think that you were reading one of those Homes magazines in the doctor’s surgery – this book gives you that bit more.

There is a sequel, and I am led to believe a third book in the offing. Something about this book appealed, although I have not moved to France, I have recently moved into my own space and I can understand the satisfaction of achieving something so small, and then reaping the benefits – sitting down on the sofa with a good book whenever I want is one of the top!