The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelway-Sundberg

Read April 2019
Recommended for people who can read the original
 ★     ★      

A great premise: a group of older people in an assisted living facility become frustrated with their living conditions and embark on various activities to emancipate themselves. Sadly, the writing is unable to capture my interest, though I read a translated version, which could have contributed to the confusion. Much like hanging out in a residential facility, I found myself dozing off without warning.

The first paragraph from chapter one:

“The next day, while the guests, or the ‘clients,’ as they were now called, at Diamond House were drinking their morning coffee in the lounge. Martha thought about what she should do. In her childhood home in Österlen, down in the south off Sweden, people didn’t just sit and wait for somebody else to take action. If the hay must be put in the barn, or a mare was going to foal, then you simply pitched in and did what was necessary. Martha looked at her hands. She was proud of them–they were reliable hands, and showed that she had done her fair share of hard work. The murmur of voices rose and fell all around her as she surveyed the rather shabby lounge. The smell was decidedly reminiscent of the Salvation Army and the furniture seemed to have come straight from the recycling depot. The old gray 1940s building, with its asbestos fiber cement cladding, was like a combination of an old school and a dentist’s waiting room. Surely this wasn’t where she was meant to end her days, with a mug of weak instant coffee to go with a plastic meal? No, damn it, it certainly was not! Martha breathed deeply, pushed her coffee mug aside and leaned forward to speak to her group of friends.”

If you are still awake and appreciated the exact description of Martha’s moment of reflection and the building she is in, you should read on! This is the book for you. If you think that you would like a little less description and a little more action, then you may want to skip ahead to page 69 when the ‘League of Pensioners’ put their first crime into action. As they are the most incompetent thieves ever, I got stuck trying to understand which parts were supposed to be ironic and/or funny. Or was this genuine, and elderly Swedish people are incapable of simple logic, and the surrounding ‘normal-aged’ people incapable of recognizing subterfuge? Maybe it’s madcap? Except I’m not getting the cultural context of what makes it funny.

And confusion, I confess, continued, because as we all know, Sweden is pretty close to socially perfect, so why are they being so awful to their old people? The administrators lock the ‘clients’ up at night, and then (mild spoiler) the staff decides to mildly drug them to keep them compliant. What?!? I felt like this must be set in the 1960s–surely Swedes don’t run around drugging people? Is this the secret to a happy society? We haven’t been allowed to do that to others in America for years and years, despite millions of oxycodone prescriptions. I truly don’t understand; was I supposed to laugh that their robbery plans were so incompetent as to not include the lights going out? Or that Nurse Katia isn’t concerned there’s no notes regarding the absence of five residents? This seems so strange to me.

There’s some sort of sub-plot about the awful administrator at the facility having an affair with one of the staff, and the declining conditions at the facility. Maybe the hook is that the book is hyper ‘realistic’ in description and scenarios–with the exception of the elderly shenanigans. But the writing ended up killing it. It feels like a basic reading level in vocabulary and thought process, as the above paragraph shows. A third person point of view often means that it is just narrated from different perspectives, not that much insight is offered. First this happens, then that happens, and then that occurs, and this is what this character thought about it. Pacing is terribly slow, with paragraphs of description of both setting and Martha’s crew making plot points even further apart.

I ended up with a terminal loss of interest around page 95. In fact, I’m falling asleep writing this. Not recommended for listening while driving.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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3 Responses to The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelway-Sundberg

  1. alicegristle says:

    Actually, the maltreatment of the elderly in nursing homes is an everyday thing here in Finland, another “perfect society”. I’ve not delved into the issue in Sweden’s case, but I’m guessing it’s similar. Also, this feels like a cash-in in the wake of Jonas Jonasson’s “Hundraåringen”, so yeah, doubly not for me…

    • thebookgator says:

      Really?! I mean, it happens in the U.S., but in popular culture it is understood to be unacceptable (much like kicking dogs and drowning cats). It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but there is generally outrage when it comes to light. The frank drugging of the residents, the locked areas (with the purpose of forbidding them comforts/pleasures) and the restrictions were so blatant, I couldn’t tell if it was social commentary (that’s what nursing homes FEEL like), exaggeration, or reality.

      • alicegristle says:

        Ya, people here are outraged too. It’s just that I’ve worked as a nurse, so I’m a bit of an insider – I’ve moved past the point of outrage already. As to whether it’s social commentary, exaggeration, or reality… I’d guess it’s all three.

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