“An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good” by Helene Tursten, translated by Marlaine Delargy. Soho Press, 2018. 171 pages. $12.99
At first glance, Maud might seem like a sweet, unassuming, elderly woman. However, through five interconnected short stories, Helene Tursten shows the reader why “An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good.”
The stories in “An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good” feature, Maud, an eighty-nine year old woman, living rent-free for the last forty years in her family’s spacious apartment in Sweden. Her family members have died several years ago, and Maud enjoys the solitude of her current life. Her father died when she was 18, and her sister Caroline, for whom Maud served as a caregiver for many years, died thirty-seven years ago, when she accidently fell down the stairs. At least, Maud thinks it was an accident.
Maud is not someone who is outwardly malicious to others. She is the type of villain who likely does not see herself as a villain, which in many ways, is more frightening than the alternative. Maud likely would have never gotten “up to no good” if the people around her did not try to disrupt with her solitary life. But when Maud feels like an injustice has been committed, she is not afraid to go to great lengths to right the wrongs.
Maud is highly intelligent and conniving, but she is frequently underestimated because of her advanced age. In the collections’ first story “An Elderly Lady Has Accommodation Problems,” when unsure how to respond to a persistent neighbor, Tursten says “Automatically, she reverted to her role of Very Old Lady.” Maud frequently puts on the role of “very old lady,” which, with one exception, removes any suspicion from her when she is inevitability spotted at the scene of the crime.
In the first story, Maud returns from vacation to a new neighbor Jasmin, an artist who showers her with attention, baked goods, and possible friendship. Unfortunately for Jasmin, Maud is more tech savvy than she expects, and after reading Jasmin’s blog, she learns that Jasmin’s acts of generosity and friendship have the ulterior motive of hoping to convince Maud to give up her large apartment in exchange for Jasmin’s smaller residence. Incensed by this plan, Maud decides to pay Jasmin a visit, in which Maud eliminates any competition for her apartment through a cleverly staged “accident.”
Helene Tursten’s writing is a pleasure to read. Despite the dark nature of the stories, Tursten’s writing is full of humor, and highlights the way that many elderly people are ignored by society as being senile or incapable, something Maud fully uses to her advantage. “An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good” creates a protagonist that readers should despise but can help but relate to in some small way. Maud is able to exact revenge without consequences or a guilty conscious, and while the “no good” Maud does is certainly indefensible, it is satisfying to see a world in which “fairness” exists. “An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good” is dark, delicious fun with an unforgettable protagonist.
Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.