Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent
Published by Penguin Viking on 2nd March 2023
Available From All Good Bookshops
What They Say
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 . . .
What I Say
There are some authors who quite simply are auto read authors. For me Liz Nugent is one of them, because her brilliant writing where the domestic and the macabre are mixed together effortlessly, propel you into a world that is absolute proof of the saying that you never know what goes on behind closed doors.
Strange Sally Diamond starts with Sally throwing out her Dad’s body with the rubbish – because that is what he told her to do. From the opening paragraph, it is obvious to see that Sally is an unconventional protagonist, and that her literal translations of instructions, distance from the world outside and her awkwardness with people and social interactions mean that Sally is very much walking her own path in the world.
When the family doctor Angela discovers what Sally has done, having known Sally and her family for years, she steps in as Sally’s protector, navigating both the legal and personal minefield that Sally now finds herself in. As we fall deeper into Sally’s world, what becomes patently obvious is that from the moment she was born, Sally’s life has been a traumatic and incredible one, which means her own self awareness and understanding of what she has had to navigate leads her to deal with the world around her in a way that she feels she is in control.
Left alone in her family home, Sally starts to unravel her own history, and discovers how she became a member of the Diamond family – and with it, a whole barrage of secrets and things never told start spilling into Sally’s life. When Sally starts to receive mysterious presents, and messages she doesn’t understand, the past that she has no recollection of starts seeping into her present.
Little by little, as the narrative weaves backwards and forwards, and by the introduction of the character of Peter into the text, we are slowly able to see exactly what happened not only to Sally’s mother, but also the awful reality of what their life was like at the hands of her father.
As always, I think it is important to let you know that Strange Sally Diamond has some very dark themes that run through this novel, there is domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, and a prevalent theme is paedophilia. While this is undoubtedly a very difficult and challenging novel to read, Liz’s incredible skill as a writer means that these are all tackled with extreme sensitivity, and the way in which they are the backbone of the narrative never feels anything other than absolutely integral to the plot and understanding what has brought Sally and Peter to this point in their story.
I thought it was interesting to see how Sally develops as a character as the narrative moves on, and how everything we do so easily and take for granted are huge victories for her. The confidence she gains comes from working with her therapist, and her own motivation to finally embrace the world she has been detached from for such a long time. Liz’s depiction of Sally always feels that it comes from a place of compassion and curiosity, wanting us to understand that this woman has endured so much, but in learning to process her past and know that people can be trusted, that a new world is waiting for her – which can be an amazing thing, or something that brings complications that no one could have envisaged.
Strange Sally Diamond is a novel that perfectly balances the gradual development of Sally’s character once she allows herself to open up to the world around her, set against the incredibly challenging history and life she has lived in a way that feels measured and controlled – much like Sally herself. It is a novel that show us the darkest and most macabre stories of human existence and survival are often so much closer to us than we could ever possibly realise. Liz Nugent brings us into Sally’s world so completely that as we are witness to every small victory and devastating setback she faces, and all the time want only for her to finally be able to embrace the normal life so many of us take for granted every day.
I absolutely loved it.
Thank you so much to Jasmin Lindenmeir and Ellie Hudson at Penguin Viking for my gifted proof copy.