‘Strange Sally Diamond’ book review: A nuanced thriller
Sally Diamond is strange. She doesn’t always function in the way she’s expected to, meaning she doesn’t fit into society’s standards of ‘normal’. When her dad dies, she puts him out with the trash, because he once mentioned that is what she should do: ‘When I die, put me out with the bins. I’ll be dead, so I won’t know any different.’ This leads to a furor that unravels a lot of secrets of Sally’s past, and all of it happens under the glare of the media and public.
Sally’s father has left her letters and they have details about her childhood that she had never known before. Apparently, the people she thought were her parents were her foster parents and her real mother Denise Norton was abducted as a child. Sally was born in captivity. As she comes to terms with it, Sally also has to learn to be more social and adapt to a world whose ways are alien to her. It’s not easy because she has led a protected and sheltered life where everything has been taken care of for her. She is 42 but she has never had a job and now, without her father to take care of her, she will have to find one. It doesn’t help that as people find out about her troubled past, they look at and treat her differently.
Then, she starts getting creepy mail: an old toy, and a birthday card, that makes her believe Conor Geary, her father and the man who kidnapped Denise, is alive and wants to connect with her. There is also Mark, a guy who seems to be obsessed with her and her past. He’s been asking questions about her and showing up almost everywhere she goes.
‘Strange Sally Diamond’ isn’t your regular thriller. Though it’s definitely a page-turner, the book is character-driven rather than plot-driven. The suspense element is just one aspect of the book and not the main focus. Instead, the book discusses trauma and grief, explores the effects of crime on the victim’s family, and shows how your childhood impacts your life.
Sally is a compelling but complex character. Though she’s the protagonist, she isn’t made out to be a hero. She doesn’t always have other people’s best interests at heart and that makes her relatable. Slightly reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’, Strange Sally Diamond is a thriller where the crime is downplayed and the spotlight is on the aftermath. In turn delightful and disturbing, this is a book that will stay on your mind long after you finish it.
The book is Nugent’s fifth but my first time reading her. I’m going to hunt for her other books and read them all. That’s just how much I enjoyed Strange Sally Diamond. Nugent is quite famous in Ireland and, over the years, her books have been on different bestseller lists. She has also won four Irish Book Awards and the James Joyce Medal for Literature.
Strange Sally Diamond
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Pages: 363, Paperback
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