Book Review of Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent

Image adapted from Victoria Ford / Penguin

For those who appreciated the nuances of Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and are drawn towards the darker edge of thrillers, akin to The Room by Emma Donoghue, Strange Sally Diamond will undoubtedly captivate your attention.


Set in rural Ireland, we meet Sally Diamond, the daughter of Denise Norton. Denise endured harrowing years of captivity after being kidnapped at just 11 years old, suffering at the cruel hands of her kidnapper, Connor Geary. Upon rescue, Sally was separated from her mother and came under the care of a psychologist and doctor who eventually adopted her. The narrative’s pace quickens with the death of Sally’s adoptive father; she chooses to cremate him, adhering verbatim to his wishes, a reflection of her autism and literal interpretation of the world around her. Sally’s quirks, often attributed to her autism, become more profound after the revelations that follow her father’s passing. These insights trace back to her tumultuous early years.


As Sally probes deeper into her past, she attracts media attention, and her birth name, Mary Norton, is unveiled. This discovery sets her on a collision course with the world around her, navigating intricate dynamics of family connections, trust, and friendship.


Without revealing too much, the narrative’s multi-layered structure oscillates between time periods and perspectives. One pivotal revelation involves Sally’s elder brother, Peter. Born under the same captor, Peter’s life is shrouded in a web of deception woven by his father, which keeps him alienated from society under the guise of a life-threatening skin condition. As the truth begins to surface, a teenage Peter faces the harrowing realities of his origin, sometimes becoming an unwitting participant in his father’s dark schemes. The tale delves into the perennial nature versus nurture debate, highlighting the contrasting influences of upbringing on the two siblings. The story takes a sinister turn as the paths of Peter and Sally, or Mary as he knows her, converge.


Strange Sally Diamond¬†is a compelling narrative, though not for the faint-hearted. While not a comforting read, its pull is undeniable. Amidst its chilling backdrop are surprising bursts of humor. Through this work, Nugent challenges readers’ moral compasses. The empathy elicited for Peter, juxtaposed against his crimes, is particularly unsettling. The book’s conclusion leaves one pondering: Who can truly be trusted, and does the story conclude with the final page?

Book club questions of Liz Nugent's Strange Sally Diamond

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†How much do you believe Sally Diamond’s personality and actions are shaped by her early life experiences?

·      As the story progresses, we uncover distressing truths about the man who raised Sally. How would you define his character traits? How sympathetic do you find yourself towards him?

·      If you were a neighbour or friend of Sally Diamond would you be open to integrating Sally into your family life? Do you think she presents any inherent risks?

·      Liz Nugent skillfully paints a sympathetic image of Peter and his circumstances. What are your thoughts on Peter as a character? How much do you believe he intentionally influenced Sally?

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Do you agree with Sally’s adoptive father’s decision to keep her secluded? Was his love for her genuine, or did he perceive her merely as an experimental subject?

·      Were you surprised that this book, with its apparent misogynistic undertones, was authored by a woman? Do you think posing such a question is itself sexist?

·      As the story, Strange Sally Diamond, draws to a close, Sally begins consuming alcohol heavily. What do you envision for her future?

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The narrative of the book is presented from various perspectives. How would you describe the book’s structural framework? Did you find this multi-perspective approach effective in conveying the story?

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Is there a possibility for Sally Diamond to be perceived as anything other than ‘strange’? Why or why not?

·      Trustworthiness is a significant issue with many characters in the narrative. Are there any characters that you found entirely trustworthy? Discuss their role and significance within the story.

¬∑¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†What could have been Peter’s motivations for leaving the baby at the church steps? Explore how this decision sets the stage for subsequent events in the book.

Book club questions of Liz Nugent's Strange Sally Diamond (If you haven't read the book)

·      Nature vs. nurture is a pivotal theme in many stories. What is your perspective on this age-old debate?

·      Has the narrative reminded you of any real-life crime incidents? Would you like to share your thoughts?


·      If you experienced a traumatic crime or abuse, would you consider adopting a new identity? Delve into the pros and cons of such a decision.

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