Book Review: FISHNET, exploring the world of sex work in the context of a missing persons case

Fishnet
Kirstin Innes

Happy U.S. Publication Day to Fishnet!

Six years ago, Fiona’s independent, younger sister, Rona, unexpectedly called for help. Fiona welcomed her into her apartment, pleased Rona finally needed her. But, the next morning Rona was gone. Fiona and her parents haven’t heard from her since.

Now, Fiona is an underemployed single mother who lives in a flat above her parents. For the first time, Fiona receives new information about Rona: she learns that before Rona disappeared, she was working as a prostitute. At the same time, the building occupied by Sanctuary Base, a haven for sex workers in the city center, has been acquired by the Jackson Group, and they’ve contracted with Fiona’s company to help with development.

Fiona takes the opportunity to search anew for Rona, but as she dives into the work of sex work, her assumptions about the women and the industry are upended. Rather than victims without choice, she finds an organized group of determined, ambitious, and intelligent women who decided to become sex workers rather than pursue other careers. At the same time, others insist that prostitution degrades women and lobby for stricter laws. (Set in Scotland, the laws around prostitution are different than in the U.S.) As Fiona is seduced by the allure and glamour—and steeliness of the women she meets, she dissociates from her work, her family, and even her daughter.

While Fiona may initially focus on the alluring aspects of sex work, Fishnet provides a wider view. Although ultimately the novel comes down to giving women choice over how to use their bodies, it does acknowledge that sex work can be risky and that women are stronger when they work together. In addition to providing Fiona’s perspective, the book includes excerpts from fictional blogs and ads written by sex workers which I thought added to the narrative. At times, it sounded slightly didactic, but I think that is because so many readers will come to the book anti-prostitution, and Innes wants to challenge that position.

Beyond presenting the question of sex work, the novel addresses Fiona’s malaise, and Innes’s descriptions of her office life are amusing. Additionally, the structure is unusual and surprising, so the reading is never boring, though how could it be with a subject like this!?

Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery/Scout Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.