Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Little Old Lady who Broke all the Rules by Catahrina Ingelman-Sundberg

Another Swedish novel in the tradition of The Hundred-year-old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared. The premise is an old person who is fed up with living in a retirement home and decides to bounce. Turns out that makes for quite entertaining literature!

Martha is done living on rations and getting less and less food, coffee and other comforts at her retirement home Diamond House. In a dream, the solution to her problems is revealed. She can rob a bank! Inmates in prison have more comforts than herself and the rest of the "choir gang" at Diamond House, so it's worth the risk. Persuading her friends to join her, however, can prove challenging. Which is why she sugarcoats her plan with some cloudberry liqueur.

The group consists of five: Martha, Anna-Greta, Christina, Brains and Rake. And even though they are old and slow, Martha's idea gives everyone a boost, and soon they aren't so slow anymore. Their transgressions start out small with a clandestine dinner in the staff kitchens, but soon escalates to art theft! But Martha has even larger ambitions, and once the paintings they "kidnapped" disappear, the plot keeps getting thicker by the minute.

This is a heartwarming topsy-turvy story. There are a lot of threads in the plot, including the detour of both the missing paintings and some money that went for a ride, not to mention the ambitious head nurse Barbara at Diamond House, and the police trying to investigate the oldies. It's fun and pleasant reading from start to finish, and we can't help but sympathize and cheer for our art thieves. Despite the limitations their age represents, Martha and her friends manage to outsmart everyone who's on their tail, be it the nurses, the police or the real hard core criminals. 

At the heart of the story is a strong critique of Swedish "elderly" politics. The author highlight cuts and abuses that happen every day at old age homes, while emphasizing that there are nurses that truly care and who do their best with meager funding. Ingeland-Sundberg reminds us that the elderly today are the ones who built the country's wealth to what it is today, and they deserve more respect and comfort than they are currently getting. In her protagonists, we meet someone who is not afraid to take what they feel entitled to themselves.

This is a lovely novel about getting old - and refusing to get old. Martha awakens the Peter Pan in all her friends, and sets off on a new beginning and a new adventure. Who knows if it'll be the last. 

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