I’ll Eat When I’m Dead by Barbara Bourland

published 2017
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[fashion editor Cat is making notes on jewellery that has been sent in to her magazine]
Bracelet, rose gold, hinged band, with raised white enamel dots.
Very Julianne Moore in A Single Man.
Price point: Green ($5,000+)

Possible shoots: Day Drinking, January issue; Astronauts’ Wives, December issue; or Dotty for It, the Sylvia-Plath-in-a-mental-hospital-themed feature for the October issue, shooting in three weeks.

I'll Eat when I'm Dead 2Bess had placed a tray of possibilities on her desk next to the tray for Judy and the Technicolour Housecoat, Margot’s inspired shoot for the November issue about a bored suburban housewife who decides to eat a fistful of magic mushrooms and Scarlett O’Hara some clothes out of every goddam upholstered object in the house.

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[Arriving in Paris]

The base layer was a crisp black cotton mid-length dress with a full skirt and neckline that plunged… with her shorn hair, thick black eyeliner, block sunglasses and the rectangular leather backpack she’d brought as a carry-on, Cat looked like a terrorist sent from the future.

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commentary: My friend Sarra Manning recommended this one to me (see her excellent book After the Last Dance on the blog) – she said I’d love it and she couldn’t have been more right. Of course a book set in the NY and Paris fashion world, a crime novel at that, will appeal to me – but it is so much more than that.

It bears a strange resemblance to a non-fiction book recently guest-blogged here: How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell. The titles could pretty well be reversed, and the heroine of I’ll Eat When I’m Dead is actually called Cat: at times I almost forgot they were different books.

Real-life Cat wrote about her work on New York fashion mags, and her spiralling addictions and honest over-sharing online. Fictional Cat is holding things together a bit better, but is worried about certain events at the fashion mag Rage, and the death of her mentor. The book is set in the very near future, and jumps around following the fashionistas from their Manhattan apartments to the state-of-the-art offices, to the huge parties and special events, to art installations and fashion shows, and eventually to Paris. It IS a crime story, but it is a very unusual one, and Bourland has – wrapped up in her designer fairtytale – some sharp points to make, and most interesting messages about the state of the world now. She has tackled social media and the online world head-on, and takes for granted a situation where everything is online and accessible, and where it is hard to keep any secrets.

And of course the clothes – described in enough detail even for me – are beyond fabulous: I loved them. I couldn’t hope to find pictures to illustrate directly, so instead have gone for a selection of pictures of NY and Paris street style round the time of their Fashion Weeks.

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I'll Eat when I'm Dead 8I loved the book: I loved its combination of high fashion and high seriousness: as the guest blogger pointed out, it’s vanishingly rare to find an account of real women’s working lives, a book where women take their jobs and careers seriously: both these books do that – ironically in a world that many outsiders would dismiss as not-real-work.

The book looks at issues of feminism, size-ism and eating disorders, with particular relation to fashion, and also looks at ethical manufacturing. Bourland knows that people want there to be no sweatshops, but they also want cheap clothes.

She faces up to women’s desire to do great things in the world, and their equal interest in the way they look and dress. 

Here is Cat explaining to her assistant that she went to a girls-only school:
“We ate real food, played sports, spent a lot of time outside.”

Molly looked confused. “That sounds like lesbian summer camp.” 

“I think it was healthy,” Cat said.

“But how did you get into college?” Molly asked. “Didn’t you need to be, you know, the best or whatever? I’m not saying bulimia makes you ‘the best’; it’s just, you know… a real Type A thing to do. Like… being organized.”
And a few pages later we learn that vodka – ‘really cheap vodka, comes-in-a-plastic-bottle cheap’ – is useful for taking the body odour out of anything that hasn’t been dry-cleaned. 

This book goes everywhere. A fashion maven’s way of disguising herself is to dress in cheap clothes and sip at:
A venti Starbucks paper cup with “double caramel latte whip” written on the side, though it held plain black coffee… as good as wearing an invisiblity cloak.
This book is marvellous: I’m sure it will be dismissed by some as just more Sex and the City or The Devil Wears Prada, but Bourland is a brave, clever writer with something to say. I will be fascinated to read whatever she writes next.


  1. This does sound like an unusual read, Moira, but nonetheless interesting for that. I do like honest portrayals of life, and I can well imagine how drawn you were to the fashion and clothes. I like the writing style of the bits you shared, too.

    1. It was unusual, and also sharp and convincing. And actually the crime plot was pretty good - you can see it was the perfect book for me!

  2. Sounds fascinating. Not my usual thing (the fashion stuff will go over my head - amy appreciation stoipped circa 1992), which is why I shall see it it out Moira. However, just to make sure I am properly nuanced here - in that bulia quote, is Molly saying you need to be stick then to achieve things in life?

    1. I actually think it's more nuanced than that - she's saying that the determination and self-control (!) needed to get stick-thin shows that you have the right stuff, that you are the correct type of over-achiever. I tell you, this is an interesting book!

    2. ... but should stress that this is not the author's view - but I'm sure she is correctly reporting what she hears.

    3. Bit scary that (and evil) ... as is the shocking autocorrect on my phone. Truly sorry Moira, that message of mine is barely intelligible. May have to ban myself from commenting while on the daily commute!

    4. yes it is, but I'm sure it's authentic.
      Nah - working out the odd word helps stave off dementia! I had to choose between 'see it out' and 'seek it out' but I got there. Autocorrect is the bane of modern life, it drives me mad.

  3. I've heard of the vodka thing quite a few times!!! LOVE the disguise thing, and love that Scarlett O'Hara is used as a verb, that's brilliant. I think I need to try and look up this one.

    1. Oh I think you will love it Daniel, some of the details are amazing. (And you can get it cheap on Kindle).
      I think it would have exactly that effect on you: things that you recognize with a smile, alternating with funny new things.

  4. Replies
    1. It's actually a pretty good crime story, but the trappings are definitely me rather than you.


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