One woman, one dog and a disastrous move to Devon. Throw in an estranged mother who has just been diagnosed with dementia and the result is a brilliantly written comic memoir with more ups and downs than the South West Coastal Path.
This is not your usual tale of ‘I moved to a chocolate-box cottage by the sea and lived happily ever after’. Instead, it is a powerful and gripping story of relocation – and a maternal relationship – gone wrong.
Ultimately this is an uplifting, feel-good story as Karen triumphs over adversity and finds new peace following the death of her mother.
I’m a sucker for books with witty titles, and for ones by this wonderful author, so how could I resist Devon and Hell.
In this memoir Karen Wheeler leaves France behind after living there for eight years and buys the idyllic sounding Plum Tree Cottage on the Devon coast. Unfortunately, she discovers that there’s more to the cottage than meets the eye – lots of little eyes glistening in the darkness. Thus begins a difficult time when instead of moving in and making her new home, she has to tackle lawyers and various trade professionals to sort out the potential problem.
While she’s doing so, there’s more bad news. Her difficult mother, with whom the author has never had an easy relationship, becomes seriously mentally ill. Together with her brothers they deal with the wide-spreading fall-out of this.
Poor Karen begins to feel that the cottage is unlucky and one or two happenings seem to confirm that it is. However, she determinedly continues her work on it, and dealing with her mother, until momentous events bring her closure on her unhappy childhood and new hope for her future.
What you take away from this book is Karen Wheeler’s indomitable spirit. She never gives up, even when right up against the ropes. She retains a sense of humour and a pragmatic approach. She details her experiences in an enjoyable, accessible, honest way, able to present her own foibles as well as her many strengths.
She recreates the beautiful scenery of Devon in wonderful detail, making us feel like we’re walking along the sandy beaches with her.
It’s challenging in that we accompany the author through a difficult time of her life but we learn to respect and admire her, and rejoice that so much that’s positive emerges.
Karen Wheeler is a former journalist and national newspaper fashion editor who has successfully published five comic travel memoirs about her life in France, starting with Tout Sweet: Hanging up my High Heels for a New Life in France, which made it to #1 in Amazon’s travel writing book chart.
She wrote for the Financial Times for over fifteen years and is a former fashion editor of the Mail on Sunday. She studied Modern History at Kings College, London University and worked briefly at Sotheby’s art auctioneers before embarking on a career in fashion journalism.
During her career she has interviewed many of fashion’s top names including Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein. Her work has also appeared frequently in Vogue Japan, You magazine, the Daily Mail and Sunday Times Style.
Originally hailing from the north of England, Karen is one of the many ex-pats now returning to the UK – as she points out the food is much better here. She has run holiday cottages, knows the Farrow and Ball colour chart inside out, never turns down a glass of pink champagne and lives near Budleigh Salterton in East Devon with her boyfriend and her dog Biff.
You can read more about her life at www.toutsweet.net – the blog she started while living in rural France; and follow her on Twitter at @mimipompom1
Devon and Hell will appeal to fans of Eleanor Oliphant, as well as the armchair renovators who enjoy watching Grand Designs, Homes by the? Sea and Amazing Spaces and to the large number of Brits who are moving to the coast or taking ‘staycations’ in the UK. Devon and Hell is set in Lympstone, an aspirational and newly fashionable area of Devon, which was recently shortlisted in Penelope Keith’s C4 series, Britain’s Best Villages: Village of the Year 2017 and recently saw ?the opening of Lympstone Manor, by Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines.
Devon and Hell: Four Seasons by the Sea will be released in e-book format on 28th October 2019, £9.99, by Sweet Pea Publishing. The print version will be published in October 2020.