Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent
Published by Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: July 18, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery
In rural Ireland 44-year-old Sally lives alone with her elderly father. They seldom come in contact with the outside world because Sally is neurodivergent and interactions with people never seem to go well. When Liz Nugent’s novel Strange Sally Diamond opens her father has just died. Sally handles the situation exactly as he told her to, but the after effect of her actions morph from a circle of ripples to a tsunami that washes away the life Sally believed was hers and leaves behind the wreckage of a chilling family legacy.
Generally, my reviews share an idea of what to expect from a book, but in the case of Strange Sally Diamond going in cold is the best option. Nugent starts with a macabre event that might not work, but as told from Sally’s point of view makes complete sense. She is the novel’s main narrator and as such it’s her world view reflected on the pages. One in which emotion is foreign, she pretends to be deaf to avoid talking to people, and she self-soothes by playing the piano. It’s a wise choice on Nugent’s part as it makes the improbable seem feasible and lends humanity to a tale that is inhumane at times.
But while Sally tells the majority of events, there is another narrator. A man living in New Zealand who reaches out to her. He seems to have similar life circumstances, but from a perspective that becomes more uncomfortable as his backstory takes shape. Nugent uses these two damaged characters to expand the scope of Strange Sally, even as their tales generate a tension that constricts.
Public service announcement: if you’re in a mindset that needs happy, light reading (which I completely understand!) then this is not territory you want to explore. This is an unnerving novel populated with people who range from detestable to sad. There are no winners or an uplifting ending. Instead, Strange Sally Diamond mines themes like nature versus nurture, culpability, heredity, and the ability to change, all wrapped in a plot that is as compulsively readable as it is disturbing.
Like narrators with a different take on life, but want something lighter? Try Eleanor Oliphant is Doing Fine.
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