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The French House Paperback – June 3, 2014

3.7 out of 5 stars 141 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As part of a lengthy European sojourn, Mindy and Don Wallace spend a few weeks on Belle Île, an obscure island off Brittany’s southern coast in the Bay of Biscay, where they fall in love with both the wild landscape and the locals. Having resumed their careers in New York, they receive a letter from a woman they had befriended on the island. She tells them that a house has become available for sale in the small village they’d visited on Belle Île. They mortgage themselves to buy the property, really a ruin, and begin long-distance plans to restore the house. Then their Manhattan apartment building goes co-op. What should have generated a financial windfall for them turns sour when the recession hits. The arrival of a baby adds to their stress, and their French project balloons into a multiyear, cash-consuming, transatlantic endeavor before the house is finally ready for occupancy. --Mark Knoblauch

Review

"On a tiny French island, a couple of American dreamers redefine their lives by restoring a ruin-which in this lovely, shimmering story becomes a parable of a saner, greener, more sustainable path that we all can follow if we will but listen to the wisdom of the villagers the way the Wallaces did. The French House moves to a soulful, very funny rhythm all its own." - Meryl Streep

"The French House is a brave, insightful and very amusing memoir about a fantasy that many of us have had but not dared to attempt. The only problem with it is that now I want to adopt myself into the Wallace family." - Jane Smiley, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"In this beautifully-written, rich, moving story of a fabulous, resourceful and utterly original family, Don Wallace has crafted a delicious French bon-bon of a book. THE FRENCH HOUSE is full of humor, hope, and I dare say, lessons on how to live a life full of meaning. I loved it."" - Dani Shapiro, bestselling author of Devotion and Still Writing

"Don and Mindy Wallace had always been Francophiles, so when they had the opportunity to buy a home on a small French island, they leaped sight unseen - into a crumbling mess that challenged their finances and family." - Los Angeles Times

"Abundant reflection on the nature of quiet village life is nicely juxtaposed by commentary on the eccentric neighbors and other inhabitants of the island. Although change inevitably comes to the island, for the Wallaces, their little cottage will always be home. " - Shelf Awareness for Readers

"The French House isn't a memoir. It's a vacation. Charming, gorgeous, perceptive, it is peppered with unforgettable characters and steeped in the deep red wine of long-term friendship, showing us how a remarkable place can make a life worth living. You will never want to leave Belle Ile or Don Wallace's inspiring tale of holding onto a dream despite overwhelming adversity." - Jennie Fields, author of The Age of Desire

"A journalist and fiction writer's account of how a crumbling house he bought on a French island became his family's unexpected refuge and salvation...Warm, funny and full of heart." - Kirkus

"The only question is which you'll fall in love with first, Don Wallace's plucky family, or the enchanted French island on which they (re)build their dream house. Lyrical, funny, and poignant, THE FRENCH HOUSE is the next best thing to an extended vacation by the sea." - Kevin Baker, bestselling author of The Big Crowd

"Author Don Wallace shares the heartwarming story about his family's 30-year journey to restore a ruined cottage on the tiny French island of Belle Ile off the coast of Brittany... readers are privy to the charming true story of a family's journey to create the perfect home away from home." - E! News

"Wallace's ability to articulate the honest struggle that most people face while trying to find their place in life combined with his breathtaking descriptions of the French isle's landscape make this a perfect summer read." - Bella Magazine
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks; 1st edition (June 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1402293313
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402293313
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #107,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
This was one of those cases when I expected a different book than I actually got. From the above summary, I thought I was going to get a French twist on The Money Pit. There are definitely elements of that in this book, although not in the same slap-stick vein. But, instead, this is really a love story that an American couple has about a way of life.

Don and Mindy Wallace are what others may call Bohemians--although they would probably use another word to describe themselves. In the midst of living a paycheck to paycheck Spartan lifestyle in New York City, they buy a ramshackle ruin in a town on an island off the coast of Brittany. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by their financial choices, I do think that my reaction actually made this book more interesting to read.

However, while there is a fair amount about their purchase and the work in entails, the real heart of this book is the village and its people. Wallace skillfully brings to life the villagers in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of Garrison Keillor and his Lake Wobegon. But this book is essentially French. Wallace pays a great deal of attention to the French--especially the Belle Isle--way of life and how it differs from the American, or even the mainland French way of life.

I do feel that you have to read this book in a leisurely way, as if you yourself were on Belle Isle. This is not a book to rush through--it is a book to savor. The beauty in Wallace's writing is in the details and you won't catch them if you are trying to push yourself through this book. His descriptions of the island are breathtaking--and accurate! After I finished this book, I googled pictures of Belle Isle and it was exactly as I had imagined it while reading this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Don Wallace’s The French House is engaging and well-written and will make even non-Francophiles yearn for a trip to France.

This memoir tells the tale of Wallace and his wife Mindy’s purchase and renovation of a house on a small French island. Like many an expat tale, it includes stories of difficulties in construction (including cash flow!) and unique neighbors, but it’s far from cliché thanks to Wallace’s writing. You’ll find yourself rooting for the couple as they scrap and save and persevere, transforming their ruin into a lovely home — over the course of decades.

This book charmed me from the opening chapter, written as if the reader is a guest arriving to stay in the French house. Wallace’s prose is open and conversational, and his storytelling is superb.

At its core, The French House is a story of wanting something so badly that no logic or reason can dare stand in the way; whether you’ve experienced this yourself or wish to do so someday, you will find inspiration as well as some laughs within its pages. The beautifully composed descriptions of the French landscape and lifestyle are added bonuses.

I just loved it and recommend it to anyone who likes memoirs, expat tales, being transported to faraway lands through words, property renovation stories, or simply good, solid writing.
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Format: Paperback
I recently purchased "A French House" and I was terribly disappointed. I love a good tale written by folks who have risked it all to make a dream come true. I particularly love to read about old run down hovels being restored to their former glory, intermingled with stories about the quirky characters who inhabit the village. I was prepared to have a lovely trip to this tiny French island, and as an added bonus, Meryl Streep wrote a very nice review on the cover of the book...what could go wrong. Well...either Meryl didn't read the book, or she owed a big favor. This story is amazingly slow to start, and when it finally began to form, it was nothing but a bunch of disconnected thoughts, that were crafted into something approximating chapters. I (like other reviewers) enjoy a slow paced book from time to time, but at page 167, the "story" is still a confused mess. The book is repetitious and pointless. The writer jumps about with no rhyme or reason. If you love to travel vicariously, as I do...give this one a pass. I have to finish every book I start, and it was painful to slog my way through. I don't know who I'm most disappointed with, the writer, the publisher, or Meryl Streep. Two thumbs down.
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Format: Paperback
One of the characteristics of our modern world is that one no longer remains in one’s job for life. To survive, one often needs to reinvent oneself, and often in lands quite far away from where one was born.
Don Wallace and his wife Mindy are thus typical people of their time. Struggling as a young couple with their jobs and their own identity, they decided to travel in Europe and see if life would be better out there.
Things did not seem to be much brighter than in New York for these two aspiring authors, but at least in Greece they had tasted a bit of island life and they had liked it. So when a friend invited them to spend some time to recuperate on a tiny island off the Brittany French coast, they went.

From now on, forget about your typical modern couple!

When they discovered a house was for sale on this island of Belle Ile, they decided to buy it. The problem was, it looked more like a ruin than a house. Any typical people would probably have chosen security. But the Wallaces decided to follow their dream, their memory of their time there, and they risked everything to achieve their dream. It actually took years for them to be able to finance enough restoration to be able to spend at least one night in their dream house!

I was really amazed by their courage and their tenacity, further more challenged by the notorious slowness of French repair men and workers. Besides, at first they were not even supported by friends and family who thought they were really nuts and totally irresponsible.

So the book is about their adventure, and how they coped all along, with a new born on top and family hardships.
But it is also so much more.
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