A woman's search for her missing sister leads her into the world of contemporary sex work in this debut that offers a clear-eyed look at the lives of sex workers, questioning our perception of contemporary femininity and challenging assumptions about power, vulnerability, and choice.
...there’s no doubting that Innes’s debut novel, Fishnet, is an effective act of empathy. It took four years to write and research ... The tone can...seem hectoring. Innes has sneaked in quite a few lectures on prostitution in the guise of blog entries. They make interesting points, but feel clumsy. There’s also occasional awkwardness in the style. I bristled at the apparent casual racism in the use of 'English accents' as a shorthand for a moral turpitude, for instance. Worst of all, Fishnet is written in the modish present tense when it would be much better in the past. The timeline gets confused and absurdities creep in ... Elsewhere, however, this is an impressive debut. When it isn’t supposed to be inebriated, that sober voice is one of the novel’s great assets ... And there’s no doubt that Innes is brave to march headlong into such an unforgiving landscape. She asks difficult and brave questions about prostitution. She is clever enough to avoid direct answers, but also able enough to give a considered exploration of all sides of the issues. Crucially, the novel works because it shows how these questions matter to individual humans. Because it’s so full of empathy. Innes presents convincing characters, living believable lives, and so she is able to dig deeper into these emotive issues than facts and stats alone can hope to go ... In spite of the lectures, reading Fishnet never felt like a duty. I wanted to know what happened to the sister and it felt like it mattered. This is an important book, in spite of those rough edges.
The book opens with a nasty punch, a visceral scene that we later discover is what tipped the scales of Rona’s life and caused her descent. Or was it a descent? Innes’s approach to her subject matter examines this question with care, presenting the prostitutes as women with rich inner lives and interests ... contains many more instances of gritty brilliance following its dramatic start ... can be oversexed at times — not everything in a novel needs to be on brand — especially when it comes to Fiona herself, whose prurient imaginings of prostitutes’ lives may well irritate some readers. The same is true of her quest to understand the power her sister might derive from selling sex. There are ways Fiona might do this without, you know, doing it ... These quibbles aside, Fishnet is one of those rare and refreshing crime novels in which the victim isn’t victimized, and where her life and community are as important as the mystery of her disappearance.
Fishnet – alluring, dangerous, entangling – is driven by a campaigning energy, but it is so keen to emphasise that not all sex workers are damaged, vulnerable streetwalkers that it can become clangingly polemical ... The mystery generated around Rona, however, is beautifully unsettling, while the depiction of Fiona’s empty world – failing Facebook friendships, cavernous glass-fronted bars and concrete austerity-struck business zones – shows off Innes’s gift for describing the mundane as well as the exotically marginal.