Friday book review – Tout Soul by Karen Wheeler

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Friday 2nd March 2012

From Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence to Michael Wright’s J’aime la Folie, I love books about people who’ve thrown up their safe lives in the UK and started exciting new ones in France. But the writer who really strikes a chord with me is Karen Wheeler. She’s the former Mail on Sunday fashion editor who hung up her high heels and fashionista life and moved to a house in a small village in rural Poitou-Charentes. Well, she’s still whizzes back and forth across the channel to pursue her career as a beauty journalist, but for most of the time she’s in France – or as she calls it, “the land of the long lunch.”

I’ve never met Karen but I feel as if I’ve known her for years. I’m an avid fan of her blog, Tout Sweet, and was thrilled when it turned out she read House With No Name too. She once added a comment on my blog saying that House With No Name’s windows would look “tres chic” in pale grey. Guess what? I took her advice and she’s absolutely right. They look chicer than chic.

So I was thrilled to discover that Karen had decided to write a series about her new life in France. She told House With No Name about them in yesterday’s interview and with the third book, Tout Soul: The Pursuit of Happiness in Rural France, out next week, I couldn’t wait to read it.

I don’t want to give anything away but at the end of the second book Karen seemed to have it all – a dog called Biff, a charismatic Portuguese boyfriend and loads of friends, some French, others ex-pats. The new book opens with her dashing across the departure lounge at Stansted Airport after a journalistic assignment in the UK, wearing sky-high Prada heels, laden with organic vegetables and desperate to get back to her idyllic life in France.

Only it turns out that it isn’t so idyllic after all. Out of the blue comes a shattering discovery and as the year progresses Karen needs to summon up every ounce of fortitude she possesses.

If it sounds downbeat and depressing, rest assured – it isn’t. Karen writes in such a vibrant style and conjures up life in France so beautifully that you can see her small village, with its narrow streets, little square and three cafés, in your mind’s eye as you read. She said in yesterday’s interview that she hoped that in amongst the sad bits there is an “uplifting message” at the heart of the story, and there really is. Certainly some of the sad bits made me cry, but the overall theme of the book is one of love, joy and appreciation of the important things in life. Like friendship, kindness, an adorable dog, a stunning, sunflower-filled landscape and the odd glass or two of champagne.

Karen’s latest book, Tout Soul: The Pursuit of Happiness in Rural France, is available for download now, from Amazon. The print version will be launched on March 7 at £10.99, and to coincide with the launch, the e-book version of Karen’s first book, Tout Sweet: Hanging up My High Heels for a New Life in Rural France, will be available at a special promotional rate of £2.99 from March 7.

8 comments so far

  • Emma,

    this is the most wonderful review and summing up of Tout Soul I could have hoped for. You have captured the themes of the book beautifully – and without giving any of the key events away!
    It is great to be reviewed by someone who has a passion for France and I am sure, like yesterday’s posting, this will send Tout Soul shooting up the Amazon ranks.

    Thank you

    Karen xx

  • I have read all 3 of Karen Wheelers books and when I saw her photo she is exactly how I imagined her to be. Her last book allowed me to see her in a different light, I felt really saddened if it is an Autobiography, how she can claim to be ‘in love ‘ with her Portuguese boyfriend yet has nothing to do with him during the last 4 months before he dies. What sort of person is she?

  • I have loved all of the books (it took a week to read them all)! It’s been a while since I have cried whilst reading a book however book three made me do just that. Congratulations on such a compelling tale, you have ignited an aim to become one of those annoying and demanding ex pats you write about !

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