Fishnet is a breath of fresh air; it’s the kind of book everyone should read at least once. Kirstin Innes must be commended on her years of research into the world of prostitutes and escorts, giving a platform to a bracket of people whose wellbeing rarely surfaces in discussions about equal rights. The novel’s antagonists represent our underlying views of the sex industry that we may not even realise we have, that nagging voice that tells us that female prostitutes are oppressed, and coked-up, and that they need the law, and us – as higher functioning members of society – to protect them.
Fishnet shows us that we couldn’t be more wrong.
Of course, there are sex workers out there, especially outside of cushy middle-class Edinburgh – where the novel is set – that do live their lives in danger. What Innes’ novel tries to express is that women who choose the escort lifestyle are often strong, independent, family-oriented ordinary people. The poignant feminist message that runs through this book is that all people should be allowed and expected to make the right choice for their lifestyle and reserve the right to be taken seriously and be respected in society for whatever they should choose.
It is unfortunate, then, that even permeated by such a powerful moral, Fishnet’s story falls flat. The plot follows Fiona, a twenty-something Scottish woman burdened with caring for the daughter of her missing sister, Rona. Depressed, disillusioned and aged beyond her years, Fiona feels as though Rona stole her youth when she disappeared seven years earlier, and is unhealthily obsessed with finding out what happened to her.
It turns out that Rona was working as an escort before her disappearance, and for the duration of the novel we see Fiona, from the average person’s perspective of sex work, try to come to terms with that knowledge. As a vehicle for the reader’s understanding of the sex trade, she should be an easy character for the reader to relate to – but her horrendous decision-making skills and inability to move on with her life for the sake of her daughter, parents and friends make her absolutely infuriating.
Furthermore, Innes adopts a back-and-forth style, where every other chapter flicks between binaries: past and present, private and public, mind and body. Several chapters pass before this becomes apparent. It does not help simplify an already complicated plot, where Fiona gets caught up in a world of prostitutes and casual sex with strangers, all the while making decisions the reader cannot really understand.
However, Fishnet ultimately fills a gaping hole in feminist fiction, where sex work has been largely ignored before. Dealing with women’s issues often marginalised in society, it wouldn’t be unfounded to compare it to Plath’s The Bell Jar in its significance to the feminist movement and the representation of women’s health both physical and mental. Innes’ novel speaks volumes about our society and its priorities, and that is what it should be remembered for, rather than an uninspiring plot.
Fishnet by Kirstin Innes
Black & White Publishing (2018).
Image: Black & White Publishing