This book, written by Karen Wheeler, a British, was being reviewed on several book blogs that I subscribe to and reviews of the book were positive. The book is about Karen Wheeler, a fashion and beauty editor based in London, who bought and renovated a house in rural France following a break-up with her French fiance/boyfriend and eventually, moved to live in rural France.
I was not very keen on the book at first. I am a little wary of such books because they invariably make me feel lousy about my life. But since the library had the book, I reserved a copy, thinking that I could read this on the plane to Hanoi. Afterall, if I did not like the book, it would cost me only $1.55 and some reading time.
I liked the book. I read it twice. It was delightful and fun. It has been a couple of months since I enjoyed reading something. I appreciate her simple and direct writing style. Some parts were funny, some parts were introspective, some parts were sweet. Her tone of writing had none of the pretensions and self-importance underlined by a thin layer of smugness which I find annoying in several books of the same genre: “Do what I did and you’ll find happiness, like I did”.
I like how Karen Wheeler focuses the story not entirely on herself but on the friendships and love that she gained and lost in France; that despite uprooting her life and relocating to another country, all the things that went wrong in her life did not automatically become right.
A beautifully written passage describing the experience of living in rural France:
I love the feeling that I am living in sync with nature. In London, I measured the passing seasons in terms of bare legs or winter boots and whether or not to wear a coat. Here, the markets are more elemental and I’m much more aware of the passage of time. Even in the dying days of autumn, I have found much to love about my new life: the sense of space and timelessness, the new baker’s melting chocolate macaroons, and the fact that no one cares about whether or not I’m carrying the latest ‘It’ bag. I have even learnt to love the church bells, jolting me awake at 7.00a.m. every morning. I love driving along deserted country back roads surrounded by flat, open fields, past dilapidated stone barns and houses with pretty blue-grey shutters. I also love the old-fashioned courtesies that mark everyday life here – the fact that when you walk into a shop or restaurant you are expected to greet everyone with a friendly ‘Bonjour, Messieurs, Mesdames,’ (it’s considered the height of bad manners not to). I get a buzz from the fact that, just crossing the square to buy a newspaper in the morning, I will recognise and say ‘bonjour‘ to at least half a dozen people. In London, I would step out of my front door and be told to ‘get out of the effing way’ by a cyclist speeding up the road the wrong way.
Another lovely passage describing her enjoyment of the simple pleasures in her new life:
Despite the fact that I am nearly forty and on my own, my life feels that it too is in a state of ‘epanouie‘. This is partly because I have decided to scoop up all the sad feelings I have been travelling around with for so long and pack them away, like old clothes. Rather than wait for happiness to drop down out of the sky, I have decided that I am going to find it in small ways. I find pleasure in the simple, daily rituals of French life: waking up to the peal of church bells and birds singing above the high stone walls; throwing open the shutters first thing to the sight of sunshine and geraniums; walking up to the bakery on the square to buy freshly baked croissants. And then, after a day working at my computer, the early evening ritual of watering the roses and the potted herbs – basil, sage, chives and rosemary – in the courtyard signifies that it’s time to relax. My favourite ritual of all, however, is hanging out the washing. Having lived in a top-floor flat with no outside space for most of my last ten years in London, being able to peg my clothes on a washing line and watch as they sway seductively in a subtle breeze is a real luxury. There is no bottled scent as lovely as that of just-washed cotton sheets hung out to dry in the sun. Finally, I have found pleasures that do not involve a credit card.
She says in the penultimate chapter of her book, after losing the opportunity to start a new relationship with someone who changed his mind about her for no apparent reason:
So much has changed it seems, for so many people, in just in the space of a few weeks. Alone in front of my log fire in the evenings, I think back to how much I have achieved in the past year or so; my French house, which was unloved and falling apart when I found it, is now completely restored. And as I have rebuilt the house, I have also rebuilt my life. I have learned that I can move to a place where I know no one and create a new life for myself. It is very empowering to know that.
If only I could express and convey my thoughts as simply and clearly as she does…