Harvesting by Lisa Harding review: 'One of the most gut-wrenching, shiver-inducing pieces of fiction I've ever read'
New Island Books
As a debut novel, this is one of the most gut-wrenching, shiver-inducing pieces of fiction I have ever read.
The word 'compelling' is too hackneyed when it comes to a novel such as this. Each line is gripping: mind and body are hooked into a world you don't want to know exists, but which thrives under our very noses.
Lisa Harding was motivated to write about the underworld of sex trafficking after reading firsthand accounts of trafficked girls at the launch of a campaign in 2012 to combat sex trafficking of minors, run by the Body Shop and the Children's Rights Alliance.
As an actress, Harding filters herself through her characters. As an author, she is so removed that her characters fully take over the narrative. The girls appear in alternate chapters, recounting the tragic journey that brings them together. Twelve-year-old Nico from Moldova is sold by her father, supposedly in marriage, to live in London - only to find herself on a treacherous journey to Ireland. Fifteen-year-old Sammy, from a comfortable south Dublin suburb, is cruelly self-destructive, an only child, who has been torn apart by the trauma of an alcoholic mother.
That the two girls have ended up in a brothel due to parental intervention - or the lack of it - is as troubling as the scores of men that have created the market for enslaving them in what is too benignly called the 'sex trade'. Such a term suggests there is voluntary supply and open demand, instead of it being abduction and drug-induced suffering.
While it sounds like a diatribe against male-dominated, perpetuated female suffering, this moving novel is anything but. The prose is electrifying; a vivid tone carries the reader from the chatter of pre-pubescent children playing in Moldovan woods to Irish schoolgirls downing a naggin of vodka on a riverbank. Wandering in a stupor, Sammy looks at the sky: "The moon is a tiny inverted C, peeking out from behind the clouds. It throws its meek shafts on the murky canal water, which appears lacquered black in this light."
This book will shock polite society - or maybe not. The girls are entrapped in a boring semi-detached house in a sleepy housing estate, tarted up for their evening work, they are taken by a taxi driver to Georgian townhouses, country mansions, conference centres, private members clubs. The customers are often married, bespoke-suited professionals, or rather vicious males that no 'free' woman would endure. The stomach wrenching starts when the girls wonder why these men don't think 'what if I was their daughter?'
In most Irish garda stations there is an A4 poster on the lobby wall about sex-trafficking. It is a poster I have noticed and thought 'how could that be happening in a fairly well-monitored democratic society'. This novel exposes the high and low members of society that help this horrific abuse flourish. The poster should be on bus shelters all over the country. The next time you find yourself in a nightclub or bar and hear someone say "this place is full of hookers", remember that those women need to escape the drug-fuelled entrapment that they have been sold into and it could be your neighbour, boyfriend, husband or father who is keeping the trade solvent.
Lisa Harding played Connie in RTE's Fair City and has performed at the Abbey, the Gate, the Lyric, and the Manchester Library, among others. She received an MPhil in creative writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2014. She is also a playwright and short story author. Her debut novel contributes to the brave clarion calls of writers, such as Louise O'Neill, who have used their unique and creative talents to reveal growing crimes against children and women.
The recently enacted Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, criminalises the purchase of sex, so it is particularly expedient that Harding has brought this toxic topic to public attention.