Book Club: The Little Old Lady Who Broke all the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Book Club: The Little Old Lady Who Broke all the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
Author Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg in front of her personal book collection. Photo: Erik Nylander / TT

Each month, The Local Sweden’s Book Club reads a different book with a Swedish link. In June, we read The Little Old Lady Who Broke all the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg, a humorous novel about a group of fed-up Swedish seniors who break out of their care home to start a life of crime. Here's a look at the book along with Book Club members' reviews and comments.


Our heroine is 79-year-old Martha Andersson, who lives in a Stockholm retirement home and is by no means ready to stop enjoying life.

So when new owners at the home introduce budget cuts, poor quality food, and impose limits on the amount of coffee the seniors can drink, Martha decides enough is enough. With a group of four friends, she creates The League of Pensioners, determined to stand up for elderly people everywhere, regain their freedom, and lead a life of luxury.

Their solution? Crime, or more specifically, a daring heist aimed at landing them in prison. The book follows the unlikely group on their adventures, which never quite go as planned.


Although the story is light-hearted, author Ingelman-Sundberg has said her inspiration for the novel was her own frustration at the lack of representation of older people in literature, and her perception that some Swedish elderly care homes offered worse living conditions than prisons, so there are serious issues at the book's heart.

I liked the technique of approaching these issues through humour, and in some ways, it reminded me of a children's book, with an unlikely gang of protagonists who all have their unique strengths to contribute to the group. Martha's straightforward way of thinking, rooted in her belief of right and wrong, reminded me of Roald Dahl's Matilda or perhaps even Swedish heroine Pippi Longstocking. 

Here's what The Local Sweden's Book Club thought.

"I really enjoyed it! It was a fun story with entertaining twists and turns. I do remember being really surprised at the beginning of the book that prison could seem in any way superior to a nursing home. As an American, it's very difficult to imagine that story element being remotely plausible in the US (sad but true)." - Kelly Nielsen.

"It was a great yarn about the adventures still left in all of us,.. I cringed at the depictions of 'old' for my age group. It would make a great movie, à la Ocean's 8." - Judith Busch.

READ ALSO: The Local interviews the author of The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules

Some Book Club members commented that they found the book slow to get going, but most of the group were interested in the message about elderly care and found it sparked questions about the Swedish social welfare system.

"I am finding it hard to get into and quite slow. Funny though, although I have to ask if the life of the elderly in Sweden is really like that? I know no one here in UK could probably come up with a similar idea. So maybe the Swedish element here is what makes the story." - Samantha Hammell.

Reader Susan Blake enjoyed the book and also praised its "twists and turns", saying she was already planning to listen to the audiobook again in a few months.

For Susan, the book reminded her of her own Swedish grandmother. Although the book's feisty five protagonists were very different, she shared the memories it stirred for her:

"My own Swedish grandmother was very proper; perhaps because she was an immigrant made her more self-conscious. She was the nurturing force in my life. She taught me to count to ten in Swedish 72 years ago when I was three years old, and it is a great help with pronunciation. She also taught me a prayer that I have mostly forgotten. Once I heard it in a Swedish movie, but I haven’t been able to find it again."  

In July, the Book Club will be reading Everything I Can't Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri.

Join The Local Sweden's Book Club on Facebook and sign up to our newsletter to receive updates and highlights from the group, and to have your say in what we read next.

And feel free to get in touch by email (Members of The Local can log in to comment below) if you have book suggestions, opinions on this month's book, or any other ideas for the Book Club.



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