Source: Review copy
Publication: 2 March 2023 from Penguin Sandycove
Sally Diamond cannot understand why what she did was so strange. She was only doing what her father told her to do, to put him out with the rubbish when he died.
Now Sally is the centre of attention, not only from the hungry media and police detectives, but also a sinister voice from a past she cannot remember. As she begins to discover the horrors of her childhood, Sally steps into the world for the first time, making new friends and big decisions, and learning that people don’t always mean what they say.
But who is the man observing Sally from the other side of the world? And why does her neighbour seem to be obsessed with her? Sally’s trust issues are about to be severely challenged . . .
Liz Nugent is one of those authors whose books are always a must read. She is always distinctive, never short of compelling and her characters have a unique voice that you simply won’t see replicated anywhere else. Add to that some deep darkness and the reader is drawn into a world they have not experienced before.
Strange Sally Diamond is an excellent example of all these things. Sally is a woman with a literal mind and an incredible back story and this is the story of what happens when Sally’s father dies and she is left alone.
Sally is neuro-divergent and as a consequence she doesn’t know how to carry out the social niceties that make up much of our interactions, nor does she think that they make much sense. But Sally is also intelligent and more than capable of learning. After the death of her father and following the dropping of any charges arising from her unorthodox disposal of his body, Sally learns that her parents have not always been truthful with her. She discovers she was adopted and slowly learns that her father is the one who has chosen, for his own reasons, to keep Sally in the dark about her origins. Living in an isolated part of rural Ireland, Sally has a small circle of neighbours and no real friends but has also been kept away from the truth about who she is and how she came to be there.
Finding out the truth is a lot to come to terms with, and as she reads through the correspondence that details how she joined the Diamonds she is shocked at what she learns.
It is to her credit that she finds a way through everything she learns and begins to live her life properly, even making some friends. But then Sally starts to receive messages and even a gift from a stranger which stirs something in her. Sally’s curiosity has been aroused and she desperately wants to know more about herself and her family.
As the story unfolds, Nugent masterfully weaves together Sally’s traumatic childhood experiences with her present-day investigation into where she came from. The narrative is told through multiple perspectives, including Sally’s own.
Liz Nugent weaves a dark and shocking plot line which reveals more about Sally, her mother and what led to her adoption. Her writing is flawless, pitch perfect and evokes shock, horror and yet great empathy for Sally alongside the hope that she can survive the trauma of all she uncovers.
One of the strengths of Strange Sally Diamond is its complex and well-drawn characters. Sally is a flawed but deeply compelling protagonist, and the supporting cast is equally well-crafted. Nugent does an excellent job of exploring the motivations and psychologies of each character, and as a result, the novel feels rich and multi-layered.
There is more than one dark and vile character in this book and Nugent expands the footprint of this story to cover incidents in New Zealand as she sends us to consider the nature versus nurture argument to allow us to examine whether we are all the product of our upbringing.
Strange Sally Diamond is dark and really disturbing. It pulls you in and never lets go. And yet for all the evil in this book, the goodness that is Sally Diamond shines through. Here Nugent has created a character for whom we have nothing but respect and who we overwhelmingly want to triumph over her adversity.
As the story progresses, Nugent gradually reveals the events that led to Sally’s current state of mind, including traumatic incidents from her childhood and a toxic relationship. Nugent handles these sensitive topics with sensitivity and nuance, never shying away from the uncomfortable truths that lie at the heart of Sally’s story.
Another standout aspect of the book is its vivid and atmospheric setting. Nugent paints a vivid picture of the small Irish town where the story takes place, and her prose is both evocative and haunting.
Liz Nugent’s Strange Sally Diamond is a masterful exploration of the human psyche, told with empathy, insight, and a deep understanding of the complexities of trauma and mental illness.
It is a deeply moving and thought-provoking novel that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. A thought-provoking read that will appeal to fans of psychological thrillers and character-driven fiction alike. With its intricate plotting, memorable characters, and tense atmosphere, it is an unmissable ‘must read’. No wonder it has been selected as a BBC Two ‘Between the Covers’ Bookclub pick this season.
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Before becoming a full-time writer, Liz Nugent worked in film, theatre and television. Her four novels – Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait, Skin Deep and Our Little Cruelties have each been Number One bestsellers and she has won four Irish Book Awards, as well as the James Joyce Medal for Literature. She lives in Dublin.
2 thoughts on “Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent @lizzienugent @penguinrandom @EllieeHud”
Excellent review Mary. I have a copy of this but wondering if it’s too dark for me. Sounds like a very intriguing read though so maybe will give it a go.
It is dark Joanne, though never graphic. But there are themes of kidnapping, incarceration and abuse so be aware…x
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