Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler

I love this book.
It’s Karen Wheeler’s unpretentious, brave and often hilarious account of how she left her life of fashion in London to begin a “new life in France.”
“Why would someone do that?” one might wonder, and Karen quickly explains in the opening pages of her book: “To be honest, my life in London had started to seem very empty. I had wardrobes crammed with “It” bags and “must-have” shoes, most of them gifts from designers to thank me for articles I’d written, and I had cupboards full of free beauty products. I had spent most of my life so far focused on work and chasing material possessions. Now I had them in abundance and yet, at thirty-five, I was unhappy. There had to be more to life, I decided, than a stockpile of sought-after accessories.”
It was then that I knew I could sink whole heartedly into her story. There wouldn’t be games with honesty, making things look better, or worse, than they actually were. There wouldn’t be a front of superficiality to impress her readers. (Much as I’ve enjoyed Frances Mayes’ books on Tuscany, they have a certain element of arrogance which is completely absent from Karen Wheeler’s writing. And don’t ever think this is a book resembling Eat Pray and Love which I loathed for being all about Elizabeth and what she, personally, could gain.)
The house in France offered me an escape route and gave me a new focus. After buying Maison Coquelicot, I continued to live in London for another year, earning the money to do the house up. But I didn’t waste that year. I signed up for twice-weekly French classes int he evening and I read every book I could find, fiction or otherwise, on moving to rural France. Most of them were plodding, middle-aged memoirs about septic tanks, elusive artisans and epic meals. But I devoured every word, and loved their soporific, calming effect. I fell asleep each night dreaming of sunflower fields and rustic interiors. Sitting at my desk in London, I wrote lists of the work that needed to be done and the furniture that I needed to buy. I spent evenings and weekends studying paint charts and ripping pages out of country interiors magazines for inspiration. The house became my hobby and suddenly I had a goal, something to work towards.
Karen explains the process of this life changing move with a frankness and simplicity which makes one think, “Hey! Maybe I’ll follow suit!” 
Because surely, she made a life which was sweet.
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26 thoughts on “Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler”

  1. Funny, because when I started reading the review, it made me think of eat, Pray Love, which I didn't like. But if this is different, I might give it a try, sometimes when the pile of unread books is not sooooo high 🙂

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  2. I'm so glad to hear you liked this. I only got to read the first chapter (she was just leaving the creepy hotel in Caen) because it was due back at the library, but it's definitely my cup of tea. Wasn't sure I'd like it that much, because she seemed a little airheaded, but I'd be very happy to be wrong! Will take it out again. Though I loved reading Frances Mayes, too…:)

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  3. Natalie, my mother often took us to France when we were small; she was so brave to just rent a little house for the Summer! This brought back lots of fond memories, and small struggles, that anyone experiences when living in a home different from one's own. It's definitely "armchair travel" at its finest. Although, we could do with a trip to Italy, you and I, couldn't we?

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  4. Ally, I hope you saw the line in my post about how much I disliked Eat Pray Love. Loathed, I think, is the word I used. I could not get over that woman's sense of entitlement all in the name of "self discovery".

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  5. Audrey, don't you hate it when a book you're enjoying is due back to the library? Perhaps you'll check it out again because I think it's a worthy read, and I think you'll like it.

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  6. This looks like a great find! When I left a NYC job in publishing for a small town in the South to go back to grad school, people thought I was crazy. Not that they were necessarily wrong about that, but it did turn out to be a great decision for our family. I can't wait to read this!

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  7. OMG I'm so happy to know I am NOT the only one who despised and Loathed Eat, Pray, Love. All she did was complain her way through the entire book. I wrote a review on Amazon about how much I hated this book. This one on the other hand sounds pretty good.

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  8. Terrific review, Bellezza. This truly sounds like a book I'd enjoy. (I even looked up "tout suite", which I kind of remembered from French class, but I wanted to check my memory.)As for Eat, Pray, Love, I saw it in a different way. I thought that the author was confused and apologetic about her feelings and the fact that she needed to change her life.

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  9. It sounds wonderful, though I felt kinda funny about the 'middle-aged' memoirs she mentioned. Don't younger people have to worry about such things when they move to a house? :<) And you are the only person I've read who doesn't like EPL. I read about two pages and couldn't stand it. My word verification – 'cocoing' – coco chanel connection perhaps?

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  10. I'm drooling over this book! I love the cover, as well as the subject matter. Definitely adding it to my TBR list. Maybe we should plan a trip to France… 🙂

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  11. Col, I love your sense of daring. At least, it's daring to me to leave one huge city for a small town; one culture, practically for another. The biggest change I had was leaving Germany where I taught for the Dept. of Defense to come back to Illinois. I surely loved living in Europe. I could do so again quite easily.

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  12. Suko, I often find myself having to look up things I knew from French class now forgotten. You are very gracious in your appreciation of Eat Pray Love, giving her credit for being confused. I love the different perspective we bring to books, "we" being in the sense of readers not necessarily you and I. Still, I can't get past how ultimately, I saw her leaving her husband as so very selfish.

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  13. Kailana, one of it's most redeeming qualities, besides the heartfelt honesty and openness about her experience, is the fact that it's true! So many times that can make a book more relevant for someone who's considering reading it.

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  14. Nan, there's no doubt in my mind that we would feel the same about Eat Pray Love. xoAnd, definitely, I think your word verification was to honor Coco, or Paris in July II, or just France in general as applicable to this post. 😉

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  15. Les, the author (pictured on the cover) actually reminds me of you (or, at least the pictures I've seen of you!). As much as I love France, and I do, I think I have to get to Italy first, though. xo

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  16. Wintson's Dad, now that you mention it I see the connection! It's nice to have a recounting of the experience from a male and a female perspective as surely they differ.

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  17. I so much fantasize about making such a bold move. But, I am so stuck on the corporate treadmill that I don't even have an idea of what I could/would be able to do if I am pulled out of my current superficially busy life. I've heard a lot about this book, and I should try it if only to live her new life vicariously 😀

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  18. Holly, I'm interested that you've heard mixed reviews; it's hard for me to imagine someone not liking this book! I guess when we feel strongly about something, another point of view can surprise us, but this was such a fun read. So unpretentious…Nishitak, I love your phrase "current superficially busy life". It's so true, how we can feel locked like hamsters on a treadmill with never a respite. It's good to have books like this which can at least give us some temporary relief, and perhaps prepare us to think of an alternative.

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