Kirstin Innes’ debut novel, Fishnet, was first published by Freight Books in 2015 to critical acclaim. Subsequently it went on to win the Guardian Not the Booker Prize later that same year, another accolade for Innes, one of the first recipients of the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award back in 2009. Unfortunately, Freight’s collapse late last year left Innes and her novel cast adrift without a publisher, along with many others. Luckily, Black & White Publishing came to the rescue in this case, and they brought the new edition to the shelves in July of this year.
Fishnet concerns the story of Fiona Leonard, a single mother living in the upstairs flat in her parents’ house, working in a dull admin job for a construction firm, and still missing her younger sister, Rona, who disappeared six years before. While on a hen do in the remote village in the north of Scotland where Rona was last known to be living, Fiona is shocked to discover that her sister had been working as a prostitute before she vanished. With this new information, Fiona sets out to see if she can finally solve the mystery of what happened to Rona.
The novel is a frank, uncompromising and detailed account not only of the sisters’ relationship, but also about the sex industry in general. Innes researched the topic intensively whilst writing the book, which ultimately included interviews with a number of sex workers. While the characters are all fictional, their experiences are based on fact, and the end result manages to humanise rather than exploit. The workers Fiona encounters during her search are all strong and distinctive – from a single mother to a PhD student, they lead a variety of lives outside of their work. A lot of myths and stereotypes held about sex workers are also put to rest, most notably those surrounding consent and the use of contraception – at the beginning we are treated to a selection of biographical details about a number of the workers and many of these insist on using condoms, refuse to be filmed, and are very clear on what they will and won’t do for their clients.
Ultimately the story itself is highly satisfying, and the ups and downs of the sisters’ relationship are explored in great depth also, as well as Fiona’s relationships with her family and friends. Fishnet is a highly important book that you won’t want to put down.
Fishnet is out now, published by Black & White Publishing.