‘Strange Sally Diamond’ Book Review: A haunting probe of trauma and redemption

by The Technical Blogs


Just like the opening move on a chessboard, the opening lines of a book matter. Especially if it is a crime-thriller. And with ‘Strange Sally Diamond’, the author Liz Nugent tells you how to do it like a pro.

“Put me out with the bins,” he said, regularly. “When I die, put me out with the bins. I’ll be dead, so I won’t know any different…”

“When the time came…I followed his instructions.”

The book starts, and you are immediately hooked onto the world of Sally Diamond, who, as the title of the book suggests, is ‘strange’. A middle-aged woman, who is “socially inept” and has known just her parents throughout her life. But after her mother’s death, and soon after her father’s, she becomes the talk of the town. Initially, because she follows her father’s words, and throws his body in the bin, and later because of her history, childhood trauma, which she knew nothing about till now.

In ‘Strange Sally Diamond,’ Liz Nugent presents a narrative that delves into a theme not unfamiliar to the world of literature and cinema, yet it offers a perspective often left unspoken. The book employs a dual narrative structure, alternating between Sally Diamond and her brother, Peter Geary, allowing for a deep exploration of two contrasting lives and the profound influence of early environments on an individual’s later existence.

A cover of Strange Sally Diamond.

Both Sally and Peter share a birth mother, who was abducted from her own garden, held captive for years, raped and impregnated, twice. And a misogynist and paedophile father who hates women, but suffers from a disease [as he explains later to Peter years later] called “a man’s needs” and a “sickness, this attraction to young women.”

While Sally, at an early age, gets her freedom along with her mother, Peter spends his life in isolation with his father. A father, he describes as “a loving, benevolent and indulgent dad”. Through these two characters, both marked as outsiders and shaped by their own traumas, the author delves into the enduring debate of nature versus nurture.

The son grows up with phrases like “don’t cry like a girl”, and at the age of eight, he is given ‘Jane Eyre’ and told: “It’s written by a woman, but you’ll see what I mean.” Sally, on the other hand, is adopted and does not have any memory of her birth mother or her kidnapper. Will they ever be free of their father’s sins?

Another theme that runs through these two voices is that of love and freedom. Years later, both Sally and Peter feel bad for their birth mother, who was held captive for years. But what about their love, or ours, and what about the emotional prison? Can we give freedom to the people we hold dear? The author explores this as Sally remarks later: “I loved him. I wanted to protect him and keep him to myself.”

In short, make time to immerse yourself in this narrative, because once you start, you’ll find it impossible to put it down. Surprisingly, given the dark subject matter, the book doesn’t delve into explicit graphic details of abduction or violence.

It reads like a ready-made screenplay for a gripping movie, one where every detail is worth savouring. It is a dark and disturbing, potentially triggering for some, so pay heed to Sally’s therapist’s advice: “When stress calls, opt for tea over alcohol,” and navigate the story at your own pace.

Published On:

Sep 12, 2023


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