Death, drugs, and betrayal in the fashion world: I’ll Eat When I’m Dead by Barbara Bourland
I’ll Eat When I’m Dead is a tense and exhilarating satire of the fashion world with a mysterious death at its heart. When Hillary, a top editor from RAGE Fashion Book, is found dead in the office, it seems like she starved, though her friend Cat thinks there’s more to the story. She starts doing her own detective work based on a mysterious bottle found in a bag of Hillary’s and soon she is drawn into a world of drugs, lies, and danger, all whilst dealing with the glaring public eye on social media.
In content, Bourland’s novel is Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney for the digital age, where staying at the top requires hard work, luck, and sometimes killer instincts. In style it is far more straightforward and less pretentious than either, satiric and full of detail but still tensely written. The characters often seem to be teetering on the edge, fuelling themselves on whatever works to get them through the cutthroat world of the fashion magazine business in an age where digital media is key and paying people to wear brands on ‘Photogram’ – a transparent stand-in – is more effective than a full page ad. This environment is vividly drawn and brutal, a female-dominated version of the world of novels like American Psycho, and it forms the crucial backdrop for the fairly simple mystery death narrative.
The real force of the novel is Bourland’s satire of the industry and of other elements of the digital age. Offhand comments about dieting and image make for dark and at times horrific moments of self-awareness, summed up in the novel’s title. I’ll Eat When I’m Dead is the female-led modern version of 80s and 90s alternative American satirical fiction, exposing darkness in an industry full of drugs, sex, and battles for the top.