The reading challenge continues with The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, please read Let the Challenge Begin – Book Recommendations for Summer 2014.
Initial Thoughts on The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules
If you are looking for a book to make you laugh, then The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg delivers. Set in Sweden, the book is a social commentary on retirement homes and the way that society treats the elderly.
What is The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules About?
The five main characters – Martha, Rake, Brains, Christina, and Anna Greta – are dissatisfied with the way they are treated at Diamond House, a retirement home, so they decide to do something about it.
At the beginning of the story, the five seniors use walkers, which I think is quite odd. Although their ages range from mid-seventies to eighty, I do not consider that to be old because I have many friends who are in their eighties and nineties, who do not need any assistance when walking. In fact, many of them have more energy than I do, even though I am decades younger. Very soon after in the story, I discover that they need walkers because of elder abuse – they are not allowed to exercise so their muscles atrophy.
In The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules, Martha Andersson is the little old lady, and she is the leader of the gang of five in Diamond House. They have been friends for a long time, and made a pledge that they would stay in the same retirement home when they reached that stage in life. They chose Lily of the Valley Retirement Home, and were treated well until there were new owners.
New owner, Director Ingmar Mattson personifies corporate greed, and his sole focus is the bottom-line. He is having an affair with Nurse Barbara, who realizes that some of the measures her lover is implementing is unethical, however, because she is interested in status, and securing her future, she looks the other way and helps to abuse the people who reside at Diamond House.
For instance, Nurse Barbara gives the residents pills that suppress their appetites, so they will eat less, reducing the cost of food. The residents are also given pills that make them lethargic, so they are sleeping more and need less care, which allows the owner to reduce staff. The retirement home administrators close the kitchen and the gym to cut costs. It reaches the point, where residents receive one full meal a day, and for the other meals, they are given sandwiches, and they are allowed only three cups of coffee each day.
The interesting thing is that there is a gym and kitchen for the staff, and the wonderful aroma of the food they are cooking wafts through the air tantalizing the taste buds of the deprived retirement home residents. Martha has access to a master key, so one evening the five decide to investigate to figure out where the aromas are coming from.
They find a fully-equipped kitchen with a refrigerator and freezer packed with wonderful foods waiting to be prepared. Martha, Rake, Brains, Christina, and Anna Greta are angry by what they see because they realize that the residents are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all the cost cutting while they are paying more to stay at Diamond House. Brains, who is an excellent cook, prepares a meal for them that is worth talking about. After eating, they fall asleep because of the effects of pills they are taking, so they are discovered.
Martha realizes that some of the pills they are taking are not for their health, so she stops taking them and tell the other four to stop taking them as well. They are less sleepy, and fortunately for them, they find the gym that the staff use to work out, and once again they use the master key, to gain access to the equipment. They soon realize that the walkers are not necessary as their muscles strengthen.
One day Martha notices a documentary on TV about inmates in Swedish prisons and decides to record it. While watching the show, she discovers how much better prisoners are treated than people in retirement homes. The wheels in her head start to turn, and she concludes that they have to commit a crime, serious enough, so they are sent to prison.
There is a bond between Martha and Brains, so she always runs her ideas by him. She invites him to watch the video recording, and she tells him about the plan. When she has him on her side, they tell the others about the plan. In the meantime, administrators realize that someone has a master key and decide to change the locks. The five just have enough time to leave through a back door and they move into the Grand Hotel, a very luxurious hotel in Sweden. Their intent is to stay there without paying, and while there commit a crime significant enough to land them in jail.
First, they hatch up a plan to steal whatever is in one of the hotel safes, but much to their chagrin, their loot is slim pickings. The next plan is to “kidnap” two paintings from the National Museum, which they will release after they have received the ransom. Using the skills they had developed while working, the League of Pensioners – that’s the name they have given themselves – they are able to steal Renoir’s Conversation: An Impression from Paris and Monet’s From the Mouth of the Scheldt.
Christina paints watercolor scenes partially over the paintings and hang them on the wall – the paintings hidden in plain sight. They send a ransom letter to the National Museum with directions for where to leave the 10 million Krona. After such careful planning, one of the trolley with the money has disappeared before they get to it, but they are still satisfied with only 5 million Krona. However, when they return to the hotel room the paintings are no longer on the wall.
The police are unable to solve the crime, and without intending to, the League of Pensioners has committed the perfect crime. They turn themselves in, but their story is so ridiculous, that the police does not believe them. Despite that, they are remanded into custody and are eventually sent to prison. Prison is not what they expected and they did not realize that men and women do not stay in the same prison.
Eventually they are released because of lack of evidence. They in turn receive a ransom for the stolen paintings, which they pay, then they return the paintings to the National Museum without being seen. They decide to continue their life of crime to accumulate financial resources to go into a Robbery Fund, which they will use to better conditions for the residents in retirement homes. The League of Pensioners sees themselves as Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor.
The story ends with the League of Pensioners stealing from a bank and getting away with it.
Final Thoughts on The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg is a satire, and although you are constantly laughing, you are very much aware of elder abuse in many modern day societies, not just in Sweden. This book is worth the read because it is very funny, and I have also left out a large part of the story.
Books by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg