Saturday, March 3, 2012

Review: Tout Sweet by Karen Wheeler


Tout Sweet is a memoir of author Karen Wheeler's spur of the moment idea to buy a house in the French countryside and then move there to renovate the house.  I, of course, loved it.  Especially since she moved to the same region of France that I used to live in, Poitou-Charentes, and she talks about some cities I know.  Like, for instance, La Rochelle, where I lived.  She had unhappy experiences in La Rochelle though, mainly because it reminded her of happy times spent there with her exboyfriend.  Still, what's not to love?!

This was a quick, easy read and if you love memoirs about people quitting their day jobs and moving to France, you will love it, like I did.  I loved how honest Wheeler was about everything.  She knows she has flaws, and she writes about them and how they affect her when she first moves to the tiny little village in France from London.  For instance, what's a former fashion writer going to do with all of her insanely high and impractable designer shoes?  Or her designer clothing?  I was laughing when reading about the day she moved in to her new house (which needed a ton of work!), because she didn't even own the right kind of clothes for doing housework. 

It was interesting as well to see how her relationship developed with the other locals, French and British expats alike.  It seems she ended up making a lot of really great and close friends who she probably still sees regularly.  There was also some drama with a few of her friends while she was renovating the house.  It was hilarious, but also kind of sad, since, ya know, the drama probably really did go down, since this is, ya know, a memoir.  But hey, she's got some entertaining friends in that tiny little French village. 

I did get a bit annoyed at how much she referenced her exboyfriend throughout the book.  She just could not seem to let him go.  But honestly, this is a real person we're talking about who had real feelings for this guy who really broke her heart.  And honestly, I would probably act the same way and think about my ex as much as she does, especially when she first moves to France.  That's one of the things that I have to learn with memoirs.  If I'm getting annoyed because the writer is talking a lot about a difficult time in her life, I need to remind myself more often that, hello Kelly, this really happened and it's a real person who has real feelings.  I also kept waiting for a super happy ending where expat meets Prince Charming and lives happily ever after.  But, as I stated up above, this is a memoir.  So things don't always go smoothly and happily like in novels.  And I love happy endings.  Though while there may not be a Prince Charming waiting for Karen at the end of this book, there is a home.  She does feel like she belongs with her new friends in her new village.  And that's worth the read, and it's worth all the trouble she went through to renovate her house.

This book made me so homesick for France, but it also made me reflect on the great times I had there, so I had a really happy, warm feeling inside while reading it.  But what I didn't like?  Karen needs to stop talking about eating her pain au chocolat from the local boulangerie every. single. morning.  Because that's just too painful for a girl who used to do the same. exact. thing.  *sigh*

Check out Karen Wheeler's blog at http://www.toutsweet.net/
Some favorite quotes:

Page 27: The three of us walked over to Rue St. Benoit, a narrow, cobbled street just off the main square.  The house, a two-up, two-down with a garage attached, was shuttered up and uninviting.  It had an ugly gray exterior and the shutters were painted sludgy brown, rather than the pale blue-gray of the textbook style francaise.  The front door, made from etched yellow glass and wrought iron, was also a long way from anyone's idea of the charming French house.  But, even before Victor opened the front door, I knew that I was looking at my future.

Page 219: I stand silent in the kitchen for another ten minutes, caught in a conversational crossfire, before we all slowly start to edge toward the door.  No one wants to be the first across the threshold.  It's a scene I have witnessed many times at French gatherings, where it's important to give the impression that you are tearing yourself away under duress.  A typical exit procedure might go like this: first you announce your intention to leave and ten minutes later you might stand up.  You remain here for a minimum of five minutes, preferably ten, before slowly edging out of the room and advancing toward the door as reluctantly as possible.  Throughout this process, you must maintain a lively discourse with your hosts.  Then comes the cheek-kissing, followed by some more conversation on the doorstep.  Only then can you make your getaway.  Having watched my French friends do it many times, I have realized that there is a real art to this-the subtle dance of the long, graceful good-bye.

6 comments:

  1. I LOVE these I-bought-a-house-in-a-different-country memoirs. Another one to add to my list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too! I'm a complete sucker for them.

      Delete
  2. Great review -- sadly, this is my least favorite genre of memoir because I'm too filled with envy to enjoy the story!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally know what you mean. I was so jealous of eating pain au chocolat everyday, and then when she went to the city I where I lived in France it was almost too much to bare.

      Delete
  3. Ooh ... this sounds like a book I would love, but I have to be honest, i HATE the title. Maybe this is one I should read on my Kindle so no one can see the cover ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. I especially hate how it mixed French with English. Unfortunately her other two books have similar titles.

      Delete