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  1. Fishnet is a novel with an agenda. It seeks to humanise the world of prostitution. If that doesn’t fit with your own world view then please don’t read this novel – it will just make you froth at the mouth and increase your risk of stroke. At the outset, Fishnet is weird. It starts with a section narrated in second person and then moves on to copy from web adverts for sex workers. It feels very disorientating and confusing. I imagine some readers will be put off by this – but it does calm down. When the novel gets going, it settles down into six chapters, each consisting of two interleaved narratives with contrasting headings (e.g. Village/City; Public/Private; Mind/Body) – one narrative set in the recent past as our protagonist, Fiona, attends a wedding with her old school friends in Aviemore; and one set in the present as Fiona works as an administrator in the office of a building contractor in Glasgow. Fiona is preoccupied by the disappearance of her sister Rona some years ago, and whilst in Aviemore she picks up information that Rona might have worked as a prostitute. And on getting back to work, Fiona encounters some sex workers outside her office who are campaigning against the redevelopment of their drop-in centre. Maybe they could help trace Rona… The novel is not long and is well paced; whilst the structure might appear forced at first, each chapter is used to move the story a significant step forward or, perhaps, peel back another layer to expose people’s motives. It is readable, clear and engrossing. The description is wonderful and really brings locations to life. The depiction of Aviemore, especially, was brilliant – a grim strip of tourist ski equipment shops and bars staffed by unhappy transient workers. Innes depicts a Scotland that exists alongside the tartan and shortbread. It’s not cut off completely like Trainspotting set in Leith. The touristy Scotland is there in Fishnet if you look for it – but whilst our characters and the tourists occupy the same physical space, they seem never to quite touch one another. The characterisation is mostly excellent. Whether we are looking at the under-ambitious staff at the building company; the bitchy ex-school friends; the venal and angry sex workers, Fiona’s lazy parents. For the most part, the stereotypical traits they may have (and they do) are balanced by hidden depths or character development. The characters are neither blameless innocents nor wholly detestable; for example, whilst Fiona’s quest to find Rona is not borne entirely of sororal love, neither is it entirely borne of self interest. As Facebook might say: “it’s complicated”. The only doubts I had regarding the characters were towards the end where Fiona seems to behave somewhat inconsistently with her earlier belief system and Camilla, a high end escort who bears more than a passing 2-dimensional resemblance to Marjorie Majors (played by Joanna Lumley) in Shirley Valentine. The depiction of the sex industry feels authentic. In a past life, I have worked with the industry in Melbourne and Fishnet seems to have mapped all my experiences across to a Scottish setting without fault. I could readily identify with the peak body meeting in the conference room at an anonymous chain hotel; the mouthy and flamboyant spokeswoman; the jeans and jumpers of the off-duty workers; the obsession with each other’s hourly rates; the odd balance between brazenness and being camera shy. The drop-in centre was especially familiar with the second hand furniture, information posters on the walls, a mixture of silent workers coming in for a furtive coffee and the crowd of regulars using the place as a social club… I was just waiting for Fiona to be offered a mug of instant coffee – when it inevitably happened, I felt like ticking a box. There are a couple of reservations. Firstly, there is a tendency to introduce editorial comment either in the form of reporting a character standing up and delivering a political speech or in a sex-worker’s blog that ends each chapter. In particular, there is some strong and repeated polemic against the Swedish Model (criminalising the men who pay for sex) and an assertion that sex workers are not victims. If the counter-opinion is ever given, it is done ineptly by blundering bluestockings. Whilst I am sympathetic to the author’s opinions, they might have had more impact if the reader had been allowed to draw his or her own conclusions – a case of show, don’t tell. The other reservation is that whilst the ending is good in parts (the Rona mystery is tied up brilliantly), I never quite believed in Fiona’s ending. Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise impressive novel that shines a light on a part of society that many of us never see and even fewer of us ever understand. ****0
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